By Sun Dial
After a lengthy sabbatical, 1990's stoner rockers Sun Dial are back with a self-titled full length. What's impressive about 'Sun Dial,' is how each song manages to sound similar, without ever sounding the same. If you like track one, then you'll also like track two and track three and, crucially, you won't be sick of Sun Dial by track thirteen.
Sun Dial have a formula, and that's slow, seductive coils of guitar; abrupt, riff-heavy bellows; a mechanical-sounding background chug, and frontman Gary Ramon's hoarse, almost bluesy vocals. This perfectly sums up album-opener 'Storm Coming.' The song highlight, comes when Sun Dial bring that steam-engine-like chug of guitars to the forefront, in a bridge section of thick, stoner rock gloom. The grubby, stoner rock crackle, and the coiling guitars combo continues in 'Lock and Load.' The lyrics, as is often the case with this album, leave a lot to be desired. The chorus pretty much consists of the song title, repeated over and over, but when it's supported by scuzzed-up rock that manages to coil like a snake whilst swaggering like a rock 'n roll juggernaut, weak vocals and lyrics aren't the end of the world.
'Never's The Right Time' employs the same formula, but with a dual emphasis on heaviness and accessibility. The circular riffs wind the listener into a viper's nest chorus of guitar lines that slither and slip over one another. The fluidity of the guitars, make this one of 'Sun Dial's most melodic and instant tracks, whilst an ever-present bass current keeps proceedings suitably dark and heavy.
On 'Zodiac,' the winding riffs are replaced with woozy slide-guitar and swaying vocal lines, which is a slightly different method of luring the listener in. That stereotypical stoner rock crackle and distortion is still present, but tweaked to create a disorientating, dream-like fug. Here, Sun Dial display an instinct for how to handle their chosen genre, urging the fuzzy guitar, whiskey vocals and gloomy atmosphere blueprint of stoner rock in subtly new directions. 'Zodiac' is a song that remains true to the Sun Dial roots, without being enslaved by them.
But, Sun Dial haven't discovered a magic formula for success. 'Wrong With You' is the weakest track on the album, as Gary Ramon - not the strongest vocalist to begin with - is swamped by a chaotic musical sprawl. The guitars crash and clatter, and occasionally clarify into that meaty chug that Sun Dial do so well, but at the end of this song, you'll have no clear impression of what you've just listened to.
The vocals also hold 'No Mercy' back. There is no excuse for Ramon's semi-spoken, possessed droning. He comes close to ruining this jet-black, apocalyptic march of chugging guitars and military drum-rattles. With any other vocal, 'No Mercy' would be an album highlight. Instead, it just about manages to keep its head above water.
This self-titled debut occasionally goes for the classier, hard rock sound. 'Double Cross' delivers a satisfying, hard rock crunch, spiced up with flutters of nervy chord-work. Meanwhile, 'No Coming Back' takes the usual backdrop of chug and distortion, and tops it off with classy, posturing riffs. Ramon even tries out a more melodic, laid back singing style, warbling and rumbling in a manner that makes it impossible to understand what he's singing, but that doesn't matter: his vocal shapes are pure, rock 'n roll cool. 'Radio' takes all the swagger and poise of hard rock, and brings it bang up to date, with elastic-like slide-guitar that trembles and twangs through the track's classy, hard rock stomp.
'Kill For a Killing,' 'Down in Flames' and 'You're The One' all take a livelier approach. 'Down in Flames' is the weakest of the three tracks. Its pulsing guitars promise some dramatic, musical climax, and in this respect 'Down in Flames' delivers: rushing forward in a great spill of hard rock guitars. However, 'Down In Flames' is held back by half-hearted lyrics, as Ramon seems content to fling out random words, in lieu of writing actual lyrics. This is a good song, but it has the potential to be a great one. A frustrating missed opportunity.
'You're The One' fairs better. The drums bounce along, while a bit of echoey guitar scratches away in the background. While this new found fizz doesn't suit Sun Dial as well as stoner rock gloom, in context it's a welcome change of pace. And, when Sun Dial dive black into riff-heavy territory, it's like a sudden slap of stoner rock sludge, because of all the average alt-rock that came before it.
'Killing For a Killing' is the most successful of the three. Surprisingly clean and angular, and studded with hand-claps, 'Killing For a Killing' proves that Sun Dial can turn out a strong rock song, even without the concealing layers of distortion and gloom for support.
Sun Dial end this otherwise impressive trip through stoner and hard rock, on a disappointing note. The opening half of album-closer 'The Bridge' is a thankless trudge, where Ramon seems to be trying to come across dark and brooding, but actually sounds like he can't be bothered. One mind-numbingly repetitive instrumental interlude later, and 'The Bridge' does pick up the pace with some buzzy axe-grinding. However, the blastbeat drum-rolls seem to have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the song and, overall, it's too little, too late. Not Sun Dial's finest moment.
'Sun Dial' isn't a particularly original album, but what Sun Dial do, they do well. This is thirteen tracks of solid stoner rock, which occasionally borrows elements from hard rock and alt-rock, to keep things interesting. A masterclass in how to keep churning out essentially the same thing, without being repetitive, and a treat for fans of stoner rock.