Moonbow - War Bear - (8/10)
Published on April 26, 2017
The radiant desert sun appears to be shining over Ripple Music these days, with rereleases from Freedom Hawk, Plainride, and Curse the Son; new music from Kingnomad and Mothership (a joint release with Heavy Psych Records) plus the fifth instalment in their The Second Coming of Heavy series featuring Desert Suns and Chiefs. With their ingenious choice cuts of all kinds of the heavy riff-centric music the label is ascending to be one of the most consistent out there in 2017 – and it is set to be a summer of love that lasts a bloody long while for them, as their next release is a blazing cruise into said desert sun scorching the lush land for miles around. It comes in the seemingly outsider ‘supergroup’ of Moonbow, helmed by BMX wizard Matt Bischoff, and their third release aptly named War Bear, an album rich in reddish/orange hues set against the backdrop of outlaw roots music the American heartland tightly embraces, turning up the volume and adding heaps of Palm Desert heaviness, luring everyone and their sister into the conflagration in the process.
And why shouldn’t this be an album hot on everyone’s radar? Featuring members and ex-members of Valley of the Sun, Hank 3, and Hermano, Moonbow is a band proudly wearing its resumé on its grizzly sleeves and wrapping the children of the earth in a warmth not hinted at by its moniker. Returning after two years since their country-acoustic opus Volto del Demone, War Bear takes those vibes emanating from the unforgiving landscape of their homeland and takes to stomping the ground with colossal boots, crushing it under the sheer weight of those crunching riffs and bass-heavy hooks. Looking down on all this stonking destruction from beyond the trees is Bischoff in a surprisingly vigorous performance as the voice from within the war bear (don’t let the reality-TV credentials put you off!), the only spirit guide you need to get you across the rugged terrain. As thunderous as it is bluesy and graceful, this is an album showcasing the best of these four men’s abilities, setting the bar very high for future releases.
In fact the title track alone does a cracking job of this, sending shockwaves with its blissful desert/country motifs scrambling across the dusty trail, suddenly striking slab upon slab of rhythmic hammers upon the ears – it’s heavy but not overwhelmingly so – whilst those smooth melodies move you back and forth. It’s a track that sets the tone whilst remaining hard to top but Moonbow pull out all the stops to do so: short and sharp numbers like the beer-swilling Fu Manchu throwback of ‘California King’ and the knuckle-dusting furore of ‘Drinkin’ Alone’ make you feel you’ve cracked open a can of potent IPA to settle the palate, but it is the thick and tasty stouts and porters of the invigorating and impassioned of ‘Bloodwash’ and the crowd-pleasing stomp of ‘Alone Eyes Roam’ where the band have you really hooked. Moonbow show their competence in crafting these tunes and are more than your run-of-the-mill let’s-get-drunk-and-high-with-your-dudes stoner rock outfit, as the towering blues of ‘Son of Moses’ and the sun-scorched closer ‘Towards the Sun’ – with its beastly bass-heavy punching riffs pulverising the land before its soaring take-off towards the end – prove. They might not be reshaping our experience within this genre, but they know how to guide us on an almighty journey on the backs of totem creatures.
Sometimes it is best when bands in this genre don’t try to push open those constricting boundaries or just ignore the existence of said confines altogether and play straight from the heart and the gut. Moonbow certainly play from here and to their strengths: like Ryan McAllister on bass, David McElfresh knows how to construct gigantic riffs as much as he knows to set souls ablaze with scorching solos, whilst Steve Earle drives such rhythmic-laden hooks with his stirring drum patterns; all in all these three (plus Bischoff) possess the spirit the genre summons forth and deliver much more than is required of them. The music on War Bear is a triumphant blast of what feels true to them and what any follower of the scene asks for – a pleasing body-shaking ride from start to finish. Ripple Music certainly know how to snap up the great ones!