Early last year, French rockers The Socks released an excellent debut on Small Stone. Their hard rock mixed a touch of 70s groove and psych along the lines of Sweden’s Graveyard and Germany’s Kadavar. Just over a year later, the band, consisting of the same lineup, re-emerged with a better name, on new labels Crusher in Europe and Tee Pee in the U.S. They have also retooled their sound into more organ-heavy, 60s psychedelic rock. It seems as if it could be a regression, but it’s not. They’re more complex, progressive and engaging, thanks to a big step up in songwriting, an improvement that Crusher labelmates Vidunder and Horisont have also recently made. Julien Méret has changed his approach to singing, leaving behind garage rock yelling for more nuanced harmonies. While they already used organs as The Socks, it’s both more prominent and diverse, even using mellotron, an instrument popular with prog groups, on “Bleeding Trees.”
Their stylistic shift doesn’t mean they gave up the hard rock. Opener “Deadly Flower” is brimming with energy and drive, reminding me of some of the friskier moments from California psych rockers Wand. Méret’s guitar playing has also reached a new level. His new rhythmic confidence is particularly showcased on the scorching “Cursed Wolf,” and the virtuosic intro to “Wings Of The Sun,” partly kneeling at the altar of Hendrix, but also with a flair and tone that reminds me of one of my favorite guitarists, John Kimbrough, who I witnessed in dozens of jaw-dropping performances throughout the 90s in Walt Mink (and who also happens to be playing a rare reunion show in Minneapolis tonight). His six string adds significant fire to “Daughter Of The Snows,” “Eye Catcher” and “Bleeding Trees.” The melodic hook in the latter’s chorus surpasses anything Tame Impala has done.
The atmosphere gets smokier and heavier on “Thunder And Storm,” with ascending minor key vocals and some furious drumming by Jessy Ensenat. The darkness descends even more on “Don’t Leave It Behind,” that perfectly balances the tension between melancholy and menace that is basically crack for the part of my brain that’s rooted in my Viking ancestors’ bloodlust and remorse. Few bands have satisfied that hunger — the aforementioned Graveyard, Troubled Horse, Golden Void and now Sunder.
It’s hard to imagine being starved for any kind of music nowadays, but just ten years ago, Witchcraft was essentially the only band that satisfied my symbolic urge to drink from the skulls of my enemies (you know, with music, not literally) while lamenting lost loves. Now it seems there’s an explosion of this kind of heavy psych and hard rock, and I’m far from sick of it, especially when even a band can masterfully carve out their own little niche like Sunder, and they’re not even Scandinavian! Skål, mates!