The name Volcana may not ring a bell with you, but its pedigree likely will. This relatively new band (formed in 2016) features members best known for their work in Vindicator (vocalist/guitarist Vic Stown) and Mantic Ritual (lead guitarist Jeff Potts). Given that lineage, you would be forgiven for assuming that Volcana are some kind of warp-speed neck-snapping thrash band. You would also be way off base, because Volcana really have nothing to do with thrash metal. The label’s description on the CD traycard – “void ripping dust devil metal” – isn’t particularly illuminating either. My best stab at classifying their sound would be to say that Volcana play a muscular brand of doom-infused traditional heavy metal with stoner tendencies. Think of it like mid-period Grand Magus getting into a violent automobile collision with Pepper-fronted Corrosion of Conformity circa Deliverance / Wiseblood, then having Dehumanizer-era Black Sabbath arrive in an ambulance to perform triage.
At first blush, it might seem paradoxical that a couple of die-hard thrash guys are qualified to do an album of groovy, doomy heavy metal. But it’s not as much of a stretch as you might think. For this type of music, just as in thrash, the riffage is king. You either live by the riff or you die by the riff. Fortunately, Stown and Potts are total riff merchant lords. From a guitar-playing standpoint, Goddess of Flame is a joy to listen to, as Stown and Potts dish out one titanic, musclebound riff after another, expertly balancing lumbering heaviness, locked-in groove, deft melody and sparkling harmony in perfect equilibrium. Potts also plays in Gygax, and that band’s unabashed Thin Lizzy worship bleeds into his work in Volcana to some extent, although it’s not nearly as overt here. It also helps, no doubt, that the one-man rhythm section of Glen Monturi (who is credited with both bass and drums) has spent several years in a stoner/doom project called Mountain Kings, in which he plays all instruments, so he is well-versed in the relevant genre conventions. And it’s not all snail’s pace, lugubrious vibes on Goddess of Flame either. Volcana aren’t afraid to slam their foot on the gas pedal at times, like in the burst of speed at the outset of “Drone,” the exhilarating staccato-riffing finish to “We Stand” and the ripping closer “Witch Blade.” These tempo variations are important, not only for the dynamics of the record but also to jolt the listener out of the hypnotic quality that some of the tunes have.
That said, I confess that I was curious to hear how Vic Stown would adapt his vocals to the Volcana aesthetic. Sure enough, the venomous, acrid snarl that is Stown’s calling card in Vindicator is largely absent here, supplanted by a gruff shout that nonetheless manages to be expressive and tuneful. The vocals actually fit the music extremely well. Lyrically too, Stown has cast aside the overtly cynical political commentary of Vindicator in favor of more arcane, obscure themes with a discernable anti-authoritarian bent (see “Drone,” featuring lines like “Forever damned to serve the crown / Another drone to serve”).
There are no weak links, no skippable moments on Goddess of Flame. The 11-track, 45-minute running time consists of eight proper tracks, a killer instrumental (“Smoke and Terrors”) and a mysterious, thematically-linked musical intro and outro (“The Unwelcome” and “Iniquitous Shores,” respectively) that somehow reminded me (in terms of execution at least) of the musical pieces bookending COC’s Blind. The memorability factor is high, and the disc’s highlights include “Scolopendra (Come Forward),” “Merchant Lord,” and the aforementioned “We Stand.” It is easy to imagine Goddess of Flame appealing to a broad range of metalheads, without being pigeonholed into a tiny subsegment of the market. Maybe it’s not so easy to fit them in a tiny stylistic box, but Volcana have released an album that successfully fuses together elements of trad, doom and stoner, with catchy songs, stellar guitarwork, and a cool, rockin’ attitude that makes Goddess of Flame an easy, satisfying listen at any time in any circumstance. Check it out.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~