Graded on a Curve:
Stone Titan,
Scratch n’ Sniff

On their new LP, South Windsor, CT’s Stone Titan connects with all the subtlety of a brick to the cranium. And that’s by design, since their brand of mayhem mixes the metallic heaviness of Sludge/Doom with the abrasion of noise rock and even solid touches of punk-derived oomph. And in the process the band occasionally attains a psychedelic edge, though it’s a feeling much closer to the teeth-gnashing qualities of low-grade LSD than the agreeable transformations brought on by natural psychotropic substances. Scratch n’ Sniff ain’t a pretty ride, but it’s a succinct and very effective one.

According to the resources of the ol’ internets, Stone Titan was formed in 2008 by guitarist/vocalist Scott Martin, drummer Brad Nowell, and bassist Matt Elder. In 2010 Elder was replaced by current member Kyle Tremblay, and during that same year they commenced issuing a handful of releases. Most were self-produced, and they appeared in a variety of formats including cassette, CDR, digital download via Bandcamp, and even a 7-inch from last year.

These documents provide some enlightening background into the development of this metallic trio, movements that lean toward unsurprising sonic precedent like Sabbath and the Melvins and Eyehategod on one hand, and to less predictable stuff like Spacemen 3 and even the heavier side of Hawkwind on the other. For example, on the Supergiant CDR from 2010 (currently a free download on their Bandcamp page), the nearly thirteen minute long opening title track combines the doom-laden thrust of prime Sab with early-‘70s heavy-psych gestures and tosses in the appropriate vocal croak for good measure.

While the song did nothing to reshape the parameters of a very prolific (if to a large extent quite underground) genre, that didn’t seem to be the intention, for as a CDR release, Supergiant’s function seemed comparable to a demo. And as a signifier of early growth, it does its job pretty well. In 2011 Stone Titan surfaced on a pair of cassettes, one a tour tape titled Drink Beer, Fold Space, the other a split with fellow CT band Gowl that was fittingly called Stone Titan vs. Gowl.

As of this writing, neither of those items has made an acquaintance with my ear canals, but a few of the songs listed on the tour cassette also materialize on the group’s two 2012 releases, a 5-song digital thingy (also free via Bandcamp) endearingly titled Fuck Y’all and a self-titled vinyl single. The highlights on the former include a solid cover of Eyehategod’s “$30 Bag” and a pair of suitably sludgy originals, but most interesting was two impressively psych-loaded excursions, “Rapture Jam (Our Souls Didn’t Make It)” and the plainly but suitably named “Psychedelic Jam.”

Both of these tracks, the former again tipping close to thirteen minutes, explored a dark expansive zone where the heaviness of the riffs is combined with a fluid expansionist motion, and the latter even conjured the blissful edge that Spacemen 3 copped (and greatly enhanced) from late ‘60s Texas and Detroit. And up to this point, Stone Titan’s sound was largely slow (though not necessarily dirge-like), but on their 7-inch, the band shifted into a more uptempo (if not all that speedy) mode that while still metallic (and psych-informed), also displayed a relationship with the parameters of hardcore punk.

To elaborate, that record’s two songs, “Planet Melter” and “I Fucking Hate You,” (what a bunch of sweethearts) still possessed enough Sabbath-esque undercurrents to satisfy fans of the groups aligned with the Southern Lord roster, but Stone Titan also emitted a vibe that was in accord with some of the more outré material associated with the ’80 punk scene, above all in the blunt negativity that’s manifest in their work. And the crossroads of this whole scenario is the Melvins and St. Vitus, both killer post-Sabbath bands with ‘80s audiences that were largely made up of (often frustrated) punks.

So, if still not blindingly original, the 7-inch did display some real sonic evolution, and with the Safety Meeting Record’s issued Scratch N’ Sniff, they’ve made an even greater progression. Along with an album cover that could easily send snooping parents into severe conniptions of fright and worry over the mental health of their offspring (which is very apropos for this sort of metal/punk racket), the pessimism hasn’t decreased a bit, as opener “I Wish I Was Fucking Dead” makes plain.

That song finds them stomping out of the gate in a manner appropriate to their name, for the riffs are gigantic and tough as concrete, with their formidable nature made even more so by the band’s instrumental dexterity. And while the production here is tangibly bigger than before (previously they’d indulged in a somewhat muffled atmosphere), they also score immediate points for keeping the vocals from overtaking the band’s impressive musicality.

For Martin’s guitar is more than just a riff-machine. It also wails out some thick pedal scree as Nowell batters the skins with impressive athleticism and Tremblay’s provides a sheet of massive bedrock and later in the track effectively approximates the plucking sound of a giant rubber band. It’s a huge collective clamor and one that will leave hardly anyone that crosses its path feeling ambivalent over whether or not Scratch N’ Sniff belongs in their listening bag. But that’s another familiar aspect of this type of metal/punk impulse, y’know?

From there, “Groovy Warhead Commander” opens with a short passage of loopy guitar spunk that when combined with the attack of the rhythm section actually conjures thoughts of a more metallic-tinged version of mid-‘80s Butthole Surfers. And I could’ve dealt with this turn of events for a good long while, but around ninety seconds into the cut, Stone Titan divert into a more familiar Sludge-Core throttle that if slightly less synapse-frying doesn’t skimp on the pummeling dynamic.

Doom bombast is what “Alaskan Thunderfuck” brings to the table, at least initially, but as it develops the cut also allows Martin to really give his guitar a flailing. The sections where his peals of feedback are heightened by the thankfully non-lunkheaded stop-start motif of the bass and drums are especially strong. And while the song is drenched in abrasion, it also gathers a perceptible beauty as it progresses.

“Faul” however, is considerably more brutal in orientation, a mauling storm of riffing and pounding spiced-up with some occasional spastic seizures and coated with gruff-throated vocals that wisely never become the focal point of the madness. And “Can O Worms,” an early version of which appeared on Fuck Y’all, has undergone an impressive transformation, a result that can be credited dually to their increasing instrumental prowess and the record’s production; while muffled is cool, when a band like this comes together, an ear really wants to hear the heaving, aggressive din.

Another major element in Scratch N’ Sniff’s success is that it sounds like it was, at least partially, recorded live in the studio. Ends of songs blend together with openings, the meeting of the twain married by feedback and suggesting a band that’s urgent to get it all down onto tape before they lose some of their intensity, particularly in how “Can O Worms” bleeds right into “Miles Away From Sober,” with that track racing to its finale and finding them at their most hardcore informed.

But with “A Brief History of Overweight Men,” (the title of which is remindful of the snidely self-deprecating angle of Pissed Jeans) they bear down and combine the sludge with a tightly-wound power that’s reminiscent of late-‘80s noise rock. So if you enjoy the work of the Unsane (in particular the ass-flattening early stuff) along with a dose of those Melvins, then Stone Titan might be right up your dark alley.

The closing title-track extends and mutates this circumstance somewhat; while parts flash a rhythmic elasticity wedded to bawling scuzz that’s a little like early Helmet meeting up with Cows at their most nasty, there are also big non-token nods to well-worn metallic sensibilities that don’t register as a bit out-of-place. It ends a very impressive full-length debut with a less than 30-minute running-time that’s a model of trim efficiency.

While the psych aura isn’t completely absent (due in large part to that brief Buttholes trip), the outward-bound nature of the jams located on Fuck Y’all also aren’t a part of this album’s equation. If Stone Titan decides to somehow combine the two, then they could end up making a flat-out classic record. But with Scratch N’ Sniff, they’ve already made a very good one.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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