(By Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Lead Journalist/Writer, RiffRelevant.com)
Pittsburgh’s Molasses Barge are probably one of the better kept secrets of the U.S. doom/heavy rock realm, especially when you realize the talents contained within it.
The band, which is comprised of vocalist Brian ‘Butch’ Balich (Argus, Penance, Arduini-Balich), guitarists Dave Fresch (The Legendary Hucklebucks) and Justin Gizzi (Monolith Wielder), bassist Amy Bianco (also of Monolith Wielder) and drummer Wayne Massey (ex-Mothra/Chano), is a true musical powerhouse like none other.
The band have maintained a constant presence on the thriving Pittsburgh metal scene in recent years, sharing stages with a plethora of amazing bands. Molasses Barge themselves have issued a handful of recorded offerings including 2011’s ‘Jewels‘ and 2012’s Demo. (Molasses Barge‘s previous releases can be found on their Bandcamp page.)
On July 28th, Blackseed Records will release Molasses Barge’s self-titled, sophomore album, recorded by Jason Jouver at +/- Studio in Pittsburgh, and mastered by Christopher Kozlowski at Polar Bear Lair studio in Middletown, Maryland. The eight song album will also include a bonus CD of classic rock and metal covers, ‘Covered In Molasses‘*, recorded by Matt Schor at Warroom and mastered by Zach Moore.
With all of that out-of-the-way, I am here to discuss the S/T studio LP of original material from Molasses Barge. I won’t mince words about the fact that I consider Brian Balich one of the première voices in traditional doom, power metal, heavy rock or whatever you’d like to call it today. Every nuance and inflection of Butch’s vocals are suited for this stuff, his powerful projections are rife with emotion and energy. Personally, I don’t think the man gets his due; he should be held in the same highly regarded ranks of his contemporaries, such as Eric Wagner, Chritus Linderson or Robert Lowe.
Alas, a singer is only as good as the band he (or she) is aligned with and trust me, Molasses Barge is as good as it gets. The songs making up their newest effort are cut from the very cloth of any old school doom icon, ala dense with downtrodden sonics and somber overtones.
One of the band’s greater strengths is definitely their dual guitar set up, something that always allows for increased activity and wider dynamics. Obtaining such is achieved when said guitarists know not just their own strengths, but those of their counterpart as well… like Dave and Justin clearly do here. The pair allow their inner Iommi’s to roam about with ample gargantuan riffs and, at other times, the duo administer some fiery leads and solos when called for.
Just one play through of such epic compositions as “Emerging Void“, the crushing “Last Taste” or “The Ash Season” will leave you impressionably transfixed. Each are clearly the after products that result from years of gluttonous intakes of Candlemass or Solitude Aeturnus. They, as good and solidly constructed as they are, are but magnanimous primers for some of this record’s more outstanding selections.
For me, according to my own tastes and preferences, a trifecta of tracks are the trophy winners, bar none. These numbers are: “Bonds, Scars, Amends“, “Crosshairs” and the album-closing “Bone Chills“.
The first song is the shortest running one of the LP, at just under three minutes, but damn does it pack a lot into those minutes! It’s a riveting ride upon increased tempos and oft-times fuzzy grooves, all while the rhythm section keeps things locked down and moving right along.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned latter two are the finest moments to be found here. “Crosshairs” is a monumental rocker, one coursing on energized timing and tightly knit interactions within the quintet. It is fueled with a powerfully infectious riff pattern so addictive that it is impossible to ignore. Mid-way through, it taps the brakes a bit on a headlong descent into some blistering leads before a reprise of that hook-laden riff occurs again.
“Bone Chills“… it’s more than merely a song title, it is a subconscious reaction one exhibits during this last track. Derived somewhat in part from this spectacular song, while also partly manifested from the experience of this album in full.
If you read my pieces regularly, then you know I bestowed high praise on Butch’s release from earlier this year, [Arduini-Balich’s] ‘Dawn Of Ages‘. Now, I dare say that he’s partly responsible for topping, or at least tying it, with his portion of this offering from Molasses Barge.
As I said earlier on, “a singer is only as good as the band he (or she) is aligned with” and I stick by those words. Yes, Brian Balich is good, there is no doubt about that but, Molasses Barge is GREAT! They channel the truest, most purest state of traditional doom and do so devoid of catchy gimmickry, studio-based or otherwise. It is neither sought nor needed as the ages-old ethos of letting the music do the talking speaks amplified volumes upon this latest aural gesture from the mighty Molasses Barge.
*As I mentioned here, this self-titled sophomore CD from Molasses Barge includes a second disc titled “Covered In Molasses“. It is just as phenomenal as the original material, too, as the band reinterprets tracks from Bachman-Turner Overdrive, The Obsessed, Deep Purple, Motörhead and more!