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Dead Meadow - The Three Kings

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Artist: Dead Meadow

Album: The Three Kings

Label: Xemu

Review date: Mar. 24, 2010

Since their first album in 2000, DCís Dead Meadow havenít so much evolved as honed. From the beginning, theyíve mined the past for heavy psychedelic influences, and while their early albums have a distinct grittiness as compared to their more recent releases, itís hard to say whether itís due to aesthetic choices or simply iffy recording conditions. Their style has remained resolutely backward-facing, drawing from a long thread of psych rockers ó one can hear everything from Deep Purple and Iron Butterfly to current brethren like Bardo Pond and Nebula. Like many of the best of that lineage, Dead Meadow are stronger in concert than on album, which made their 2002 live album Got Live If You Want It a bit of a disappointment; it didnít succeed in the admittedly difficult task of translating the energy of a strong live show into good home listening.

With The Three Kings, the trio set out again, and this time around theyíve got it. Presented as a DVD and soundtrack set, the film mixes fantasy sequences with live footage (only the soundtrack was provided for review so I canít comment on the visuals except to admit that, yes, that sounds like a potentially fatal notion). As for the music, though, the band added a handful of new studio tracks to the live material, and thankfully the latter recordings are extremely well-done, with the energy of the live setting coming through loud and clear. When the band reaches a peak and the audience can be heard cheering, it feels just right.

The trioís formula is pretty consistent throughout ó a strong, steady rhythm from drummer Stephen McCarty and bassist Steve Kille that provides a foundation for thick, distorted riffs from guitarist-singer Jason Simon. Simonís stoned vocals are often just another layer, but at times he approaches a pop sensibility thatís almost pretty. "At Her Open Door" stands out for its spacious opening segment, until it dives cathartically into an intense pedal-driven freakout that gets the audience whistling.

"Seven Seers," one of the few songs that stays (for the most part) away from the heavy fuzz riffage, is also one of the strongest. Its droning 12-string strumming follows an eastern mode over drums that convey a slow and steady tribal feel, and the atmosphere evokes the hash-soaked grogginess that the band surely intends.

Certainly, the bluesy distorted riffing sometimes falls into predictability, and the band canít always succeed on the basis of energy alone. A couple of the tracks chug along in a workmanlike way, and at times I found myself wishing for a bit more chaos, rather than less: if youíre going to let your hair down, then donít hold back. But more often than not, Simonís guitar takes things properly skyward, and the songs inspire the right sort of head-nodding.

The Three Kings may or may not convert any doubters to Dead Meadowís cause ó theyíre still treading well-worn soil. But even if weíve heard this sort of thing before, this is proof that a band need not find new ground to be fully satisfying. And thereís no question that anyone looking for their stoner fix will come away from this very pleased.

By Mason Jones

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