Since the enthusiastic reception at last year’s Roadburn festival in Tilburg, Netherlands and Desertfest, London, and their recent high profile slot at the Freak Valley festival in Netphen, Germany, one might assume Wo Fat is a European band. It’s understandable, as to my knowledge they have never extensively toured the United States much beyond their home base in Dallas, Texas. To be fair, their brand of heavy psychedelic stoner rock is most appreciated in Europe, where there is a series of a dozen festivals that specialize in their genres.
A close listen, however, reveals a distinctly American mix of voodoo space jazz fusion, doom and blues. While they don’t quite do southern boogie like ZZ Top, they do have a groove. And Kent Stump’s vocals are both down to earth and somehow comforting. Probably because he could sub for Bill Barretta, the great voice actor who took over the Muppets characters Rowlf the Dog and Dr. Teeth from Jim Henson. With their name taken from the arch-villain from Hawaii Five-O, and album covers by German artist Alexander von Wieding that bring their sci-fi and horror lyrics to life, the band has clearly digested a ton of 70s references. But they don’t sound like any particular band from any decade. All five of their albums have an easily identifiable Wo Fat signature sound, a gumbo of distorted fuzz, thick sludge and heavy, hypnotic bass courtesy of Tim Wilson, and a swingin drummer in Michael Walter. There’s also a notable progression where they are clearly get better on every album. For those who’ve been on board since The Gathering Dark (2006), The Conjuring is a relentless smoker. Like their last two, Noche del Chupacabra (2011) and The Black Code (2012), it’s five longish cuts that go from strength to strength with no filler. The title track kicks off the album with the confidence of a seasoned band. Easing in with some spacey effects and samples, they rock through a few verses in the first half, and then lock into a groove and peel off one great solo after another.
“Read The Omens” pummels hard without being punishing. This is a good thing. A lot of bands in sludge, doom and many other genres try too hard to be hard, and may end up making an impressive noise, but also kind of a chore to get through. This is never an issue with Wo Fat, who keep the perfect balance of heaviness and musicality. “Pale Rider From The Ice” simmers with a slower, textured, doomy pace before picking it up with the groovy riff monster “Beggar’s Bargain.” The closing track is even more of a trippy beast, the 17:11 “Dreamwalker,” a couple minutes longer than their previous epic “Noche del Chupacabra.” It’s so good I’ve played it three times. Newcomers to the band will likely ask themselves how they missed this band for so long. Were they always this awesome? Pretty much. The Conjuring has some sort of secret sauce that makes it my favorite, but they’ve had the amazing tones, riffs and grooves for a while, which means a lot of people have a lot of Wo Fat albums to catch up on.
Like a handful of other bands striding the earth and shacking it’s plates — Truckfighters, Graveyard, Elder — Wo Fat get the heads nodding and occasionally jaws dropping. Patch worthy, t-shirt worthy, they just gotta get back in the van and take it to the road.