Heavy Hands are groove merchants with no specific agenda aside from the desire to play a part in the loud/stoner rock/proto-metal canon; to belong. They get there like those before them, with reasonably flashy playing and a mood-establishing agenda, proudly displaying long tail-isms as a calling card.
It’s clear that the Brooklyn trio has an affinity for the blues, at least as how it was distilled into amp stacks and flared denim back in 1971. But where psychedelia was eventually burned out of that sound in favor of buzzsaw metallic power, Heavy Hands decides to slot it back in. Their nine-song debut album, Smoke Signals, plays directly into the past, from vantage points unavailable to the sound’s progenitors.
At their best, Heavy Hands finds a comfortable sound and proceeds to hang out, updating bread-and-butter power trio dynamics with a bit of cooled-out psych shot through shoegaze haze and alt-rock excess. Cribbing from everything in between Randy California and the Smashing Pumpkins, it’s a roomy place to play, so drummer Matt and bass player Mitch get locked in early on and take these songs for a walk. Guitarist Sterling (no last names, the record provides minimal liner notes) keeps things cool, with a West Coast guitar god stance akin to Blue Cheer, and a sleepy, red-eyed voice cribbed from Mark Arm. He plays commendable lead guitar atop the rhythm section, rather than from inside of it. Aside from some polite Hendrixisms on “She Got It,” Heavy Hands eschews big riffs, opting instead to keep things simmering right at surface level, be it through single-note pulsing and a steady, Can-like motorik presence (opener “Can’t See Through”), Titanic percussion breakdowns (the opus “See Saw”), or pert boogie workouts (“From Stonehenge to Saturn”). Charles Burst’s recording is clean and direct, and highlights the depth of their sonic signatures as a homogenized whole.
There’s not much of a personality on display here, but when compared with many other hard rock revivalists/apologists, they get the basics – musicianship that’s well beyond capable, and an album that, at least for fans of this fraction of rock history, doesn’t neglect the details of so many beloved private-press hard rockers and nth-string Sabbath/Purple/Zep clones from years gone by. In that regard, Heavy Hands is somewhat more entitled to spin this wheel.