Given the choice between a band that makes the same type of music on every record and a band that experiments and attempts new things, I’d choose the second band every time. Though new experiments might not always be successful, there’s something satisfying about seeing a band grow from album to album. Take Sweden’s Sideburn for example. Their 2012 release, ‘IV Monument’ was a stoner rock record filled with delicious riffs and a hard rock attitude. While the band’s newest release, ‘Evil or Divine’ continues to harbour these same ideas, it also expands on it with moments of experimentation. Sideburn show that they’ve matured as a band and as songwriters.
The strong and familiar stoner groove on the album opener ‘Masters and Slaves’ gets the album started. The strong vocal performance grabs the attention of the listener right from the first chorus, which is supported by clean melodic arpeggios. This track provides a solid start to the album, with good variations and a wailing, psychedelic solo to boot. Sideburn break no sweat in sustaining a 6 minute long track and this is something that they’ve done several times in the past. The foot stomp inducer of a riff sets the tone for ‘Sea of Sins’ and the sinister doom melody forms the crux of this track. The harmony between the shouted vocals and the wailing guitars is brilliantly done.
Sideburn is an entity that boasts strong performances on all fronts. But the one that steals the limelight is the clean vocal work with both the highs and lows performed equally well. The guitar work also stands out with it’s infectious riffs and abundant solos. The bass lines take centre stage in tracks like ‘When Darkness Calls’ which is a bluesy doom track. Driven by the bass lines, the guitar stays content with adding tasteful licks.
While the band manages to sustain most of the long tracks, it is a hit and miss affair and the same can be said about the experimentations. One example is the way the track speeds up towards the end of ‘When Darkness Calls’ which sounds forced just to fit in a solo. A couple of tracks on the record sound unnecessarily stretched. But the band manage to pull it off in ‘The Day the Sun Died’, the longest track on the record. This track carries an eerie vibe courtesy of the spoken word vocals and the clean guitars, which occasionally build up into a heavy, sludgy dirge with soaring vocals and a melody that sounds impending doom. Sideburn’s experimentations lead them into a very grungy territory in the final track, ‘Presence’. The folksy chords and percussions unravels into a grungy power ballad. The vocalist does a very fine Chris Cornell impression, providing a interesting end to the album and making it richer in terms of variety.
As I mentioned in the beginning of the review, change comes at a risk of some unsuccessful attempts. ‘Evil or Divine’ is not without it’s hiccups. But the fact that Sideburn are improving on their sound is commendable. Overall, it’s a good stoner metal meets hard rock record that has quite a few memorable moments.