Label: Inverse Records
With a decade of dirty riffing and three EPs under their belt, Rückwater, a three-headed stoner rock monster from Tampere, are releasing their debut full-length album, Supernova, via Inverse Records on July 23rd, 2020. The band’s previous EP, Bonehead, created a little bit of fuss already in 2016 with its interesting blend of stoner aesthetics, branching out from the genre’s paradigm – slowed-down Black Sabbath jams – to the punchier sonic landscapes of metal and even prog. By default, stoner rock is a loosely termed genre of music: almost anything goes from psychedelic retro-rock to Thorazine-infused doom metal, as long as the pillar of the genre, the riff, is paid its due attention. A bit too often bands pay homage to this tenet by indulging in endless, spliff-induced jams, hammering the pentatonic scale into oblivion. Fortunately, these Tavastian stoners have chosen the less beaten path of actually crafting songs with distinguished structures, while delivering class-A riff noodles. In terms of riffing, Rückwater‘s previous offering introduced the band as world-class riffsmiths and their debut album further proves this first impression to be correct, indeed.
The album sets things in motion with rather ominous Black Sabbath vibes – so thick, actually, that you kind of expect Ozzy Osbourne to start singing after the intro of ”Cruel Thing.” The song takes off on a different tangent though, heading for the pioneering stoner soundscapes of the 1990s, strongly reminiscent of Corrosion of Conformity, maybe even the uptempo rock grooves of the late 1980s Finnish biker rock band, Peer Günt. The opening track was also released as a single with a video. According to vocalist/bassist Jussi Vehman, the song is a typical story of losing control with all sorts of dubious intoxicants – a theme that takes a deep nod toward the conventions of stoner rock. After all, the term “stoner rock” does not stand for lapidation, the method of capital punishment by throwing stones at a person. Although, in this context, it is kind of hilarious to know that according to the Talmud, a person who violated Sabbath was sentenced to be stoned to death – pun intended.
The more spins the album is given, the better it gets. Rückwater started in 2010 as power-trio jamming with Alice in Chains covers, which might explain the use of two singers and the occasional grunge vibe in the vocal harmonies. For instance, you can’t avoid the brief Nirvana flashback in the bridge of ”Foreverplay.” As the song kicks off with a metal-tinted northern soul stomp and the lyrics start with the word ”love,” you can’t help wondering how the album might have sounded, had it been produced by Dave Grohl, with a few more well-honed pop-hooks and vocal harmonies resonating with an aura reminiscent of The Beatles and The Beach Boys.
”Broken Stone,” in turn, gears up on Tool vibes, maybe even more prominently than the closing track, ”Flame Doesn’t Cast a Shadow,” did on the previous EP. In addition to the song’s fractal guitar riffs, the vocal melody takes quite a few Maynardian turns here and there. It makes you wonder what magnificent sonic landscapes Rückwater might traverse if they ever chose to tread balls-deep in the progressive waters. Then, the title track blasts off with a fuzzy riff that could make bands such as The Black Keys, Wolfmother, or Rival Sons, blush. With a tad more vintage production approach, like liberal use of the muddy plush of a few choice high-end ribbon mics, Supernova could have been the coolest hipster rock anthem to emerge from Tampere in a good while.
”Blindfold” is yet another magnificent riff construction comprised of the sonic smoke trails of 1990s grunge – this time with a slight scent of Soundgarden, whereas ”Paragon of Bullshit” makes a French visit to the cartoon grooves of Monster Magnet with probably the most frenzied vocal deliveries on the album. A genuine stoner rock album might probably be just a dumb duckling waddling in the open sea without the mandatory weed anthem – enter ”Rocket Fuel.” As we all should know, it takes a lot of rocket fuel to get high in space. The disco beat is a bit confusing though. It works marvelously in tandem with the riffs, but how can you pull your Saturday Night Fever moves with any elegance if you’re totally zoned out to planet weed?
The closing track, ”3/1,” starts off like a chilled-out alt.country track – as if suggesting that one should relax while orbiting somewhere in the inner space. Then it explodes to a frenzied coda with the lyrics going on about losing eyesight… and still demanding, ”give me more of that shit!” Whatever that ”shit” was, it must have been laced with something not-very-healthy, obviously.
At the end of the day, Rückwater‘s debut might not be the kind of stoner rock to shake your bong at. It’s simply not slow and heavy enough. There, I said it like it was a bad thing. It’s not. I’d trade in long-winded, ganja-fueled delta blues tributes for Rückwater‘s elaborate riffs anytime. The band filters its stoner riff origamis through the prism of metal and grunge with such tasteful precision that it creates a sense of adventure even without the chemical enchantment required to be able to enjoy certain stoner classics. Maybe the overall sound could have been a bit more bass-heavy, though. Vehman’s delicious bass tone might have benefited from a little push to the front in the spirit of modern prog metal bands like Tool, rather than the vintage stoner bands with mushy low-end, such as Electric Wizard or Sleep. Having two prominent vocalists in the band, it’s also a crying shame that Rückwater isn’t outrageously exploiting all the possibilities that it presents. It’s like the band is not yet confident enough to achieve its full potential. Nevertheless, the band has already proved itself to be an impressive bunch of riff-lords of the highest order. Even with a few minor shortcomings, Rückwater is a magnificent new band, guaranteed to sate even the most gargantuan appetite for quality riffing.
Rating: 8/10, 4 stars
1. Cruel Thing
3. Once More With Feeling
4. Broken Stone
7. Paragon of Bullshit
8. Rocket Fuel