In the wake of my reflection on Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum, I was very pleased to be introduced to a new band from Brooklyn, New York who claim the proto-metal legend as a primary influence. River Cult is due to put out their first full-length album Halcyon Daze on February 9th.
The three-piece achieves a full, well-rounded sound with heavy distortion and deeply anchored moving bass lines. The five tracks which constitute the album are split over two distinctive styles, proto-metal and doom metal, with psychedelic ideation dispersed evenly throughout. The album touches on many interesting themes and ideas, including riffs and hooks that mesmerize, bass-led melodies, drum-punctuated rhythmic phrases, experimental guitar noise, amelodic motifs, and ambient interludes. The generally sparse lyrics on Halcyon Daze are delivered in a powerful, if slightly monotonal, style. The raw and undeveloped vocals hearken back to proto-metal classics and give the album the 70s throwback feel that has never really faded from the scene.
Acid rock-style solos comprise the meat of most songs, and a proclivity toward improvisational jams stretching to 7 minutes or longer is introduced early into the first track, “Likelihood of Confusion.” In “Seething,” the guitar leaves of from its 70s-style melodic lead, and as a result it’s the most rhythmic and darkest song offered. The title track reintroduces the acid rock style with new fervor, and “Halcyon Daze” feels very free and trippy considering the order of the songs. “Point of Failure” closes the album with an easy blues groove. One of the more lyrically heavy tracks on the album, the song commiserates with the listener over the challenges of a hedonistic lifestyle and addiction.
The second track, “The Sophist,” is the song we’re excited to premiere today. It is more heavily doom and stoner metal influenced than the opener, with cutting lyrics, “Talk a look at yourself / In love your voice / Take a look at yourself / In love with your own sophistry / Yeah, you talk too much.” In a social climate that posits opinion, cherry-picks data, decries opposing viewpoints as “fake news,” and values narcissism and charisma over empathy and intelligence, this track strikes a relevant chord. As if taking his own cue, the singer steps back from the mic after delivering the disparaging message, and the track diverges into a strange and eerie interlude, experimenting with effects, loop pedals, and introducing some synthesizer before commencing a solo section more subdued and nuanced than on the previous track, but with an ample amount of Hendrix-influenced noise that keeps the style consistent. At nearly 12 minutes long, “The Sophist” is the most developed and varied song on the album, despite is sparse lyrical content.
According to guitarist/vocalist Sean Forlenza:
“The Sophist” is probably the song I’m most proud of on the album because it was the hardest to put together and is definitely the hardest to perform live. The title is a reference to the Sophists of Ancient Greece, and the song is about people who argue things they don’t really know, simply for the joy of winning arguments. It’s made into a an ethical issue in the song, in reference to the ancient Sophists who argued for compensation as opposed to getting to the truth.
Overall, Halcyon Daze is a strong debut and is sure to receive a lot of acclaim. River Cult is off to a very strong start as they enter the growing stoner, doom, and psychedelic scene. The West coast has dominated much of the US heavy psych scene, so it’s refreshing to hear an East coast variant of the genre. What I most enjoyed about the album was the variety of styles and how the band managed to compose them into one cohesive work. The lyrical themes are gritty and relatable, and the cynicism helps bridge the psychedelic sound with the doom inclinations.
Halcyon Daze drops February 9th on a different label for each format: Blackseed Records (CD/cassette), Nasoni Records (vinyl), and Magnetic Eye Records (digital). Here’s hoping Indy is graced with a date this Fall! The band was gracious enough to respond via email to a few questions I had for them. Check it out while you enjoy “The Sophist.”
IMV: There seems to be two distinct styles on Halcyon Daze: acid rock/proto-metal and stoner/doom metal. Is this a result of your songwriting style? Would you briefly outline your process?
Sean Forlenza (Guitar/Vocals): It’s not something deliberate, its just all of our influences coming out. We are really into doomy heavy riffs but also love psychedelia and noise rock and stuff like that. One of us comes in with a riff or a partial song, and we all work together to complete it. We record rehearsals and stretch out on the parts we aren’t sure of, and then listen back to the jams and often end up using sections of them that we work into solid parts. Once the music is done, I take my time with the lyrics and vocal parts.
IMV: Strong debut albums generally indicate the members have a previous musical background. What were each of your formative musical experiences or education, and how did River Cult form?
Sean: I never had any formal training in music, I just grew up trying to write stuff and jam with friends. I started with keyboards and singing, then settled with guitar about 13 years ago. Before River Cult, I was in a group called Eidetic Seeing, which is where a lot of my experience comes from. Once we parted ways, I put an ad up on Craigslist and met Anthony. We started writing together and kept the ad up for a drummer. In a few months we met Tav, which was in August of 2015. I’m really surprised how quickly and easily it came together actually. Anthony was the first bassist I met with and Tav the second drummer.
Tav Palumbo (Drums): I picked up guitar from my father growing up, and after some short lived-piano and guitar instruction, then shifted focus on home recording and messing around with whatever instruments were around. I lived with some folks in college that had lots of gear and time to experiment with while also doing a minor in music. After school I moved to Santa Cruz and played mostly drums in a mix of garage, punk, heavy psych and folk projects before moving to NYC with one of those bands, Heavy Traffic. After switching to guitar in that band, I missed playing drums so that’s when I linked up with these guys.
Anthony Mendolia (Bass): I started out as a guitar player and am self-taught. I played in a bunch of punk and hardcore bands while growing up in Long Island and eventually I moved to Miami. There I continued to play in heavy bands and wound up forming a doom/sludge band called Nixa. After playing and living in Miami for a few years, I decided to move back to New York. I wanted to continue playing music but had a rough time finding people since everyone plays guitar. I decided to switch it up and play bass to increase my odds and this led to the formation of River Cult.
IMV: Why did you choose to release each format on a separate record label? What are the advantages and disadvantages to working with multiple labels?
Sean: The first label that took us on was Nasoni, who offered a vinyl deal. After we signed with them, I continued reaching out to labels, figuring the more formats and support we got, the better. I eventually hooked up with Shy at Blackseed Records who offered CD and tape, and then Magnetic Eye for digital distro. The advantages are having multiple labels working on your behalf, and reaching the fan base each label already has. I really have no complaints so far, but a small disadvantage is having to have multiple contacts and things to keep track of instead of having it all in one place.
IMV: Will there be a tour to support Halcyon Daze, and can we expect some dates in the Midwest?
Sean: We are beginning to start focusing on playing outside of NYC more and doing a few small runs. We’d love to get to the Midwest and beyond. We are playing Pittsburgh, PA on Sept. 29th as part of the Descendants of Crom fest, so that has potential to turn into a tour in that direction.