Shrouded in mystique and driven by the invigorating power of low notes, psychedelic metal outfit DRUIDS return with their fourth studio LP Shadow Work. With an album title referring to to one of the chief ideas of the notable psychoanalist Carl Gustav Jung, the trio from Iowa present a wild, riff-laden journey through the desolate wastelands of the subconscious. Combining the sonic prowess of Mastodon with the psychedelic heaviness of OM, DRUIDS serve their grooves with a distinctly forward-thinking attitude, taking their witchy brand of psychedelic sludge metal to a new level of sophistication.
“We wanted to make a record that reflected the uncertainty of everything in 2020, and we figured this would be the time to really try something different,” explains drummer Keith Rich. By moving their operations from their hometown of Des Moines, IA to Salt Lake City, UT, the band were able to escape the distractions of everyday life and shift their gaze from the endless cornrows of their homeland to the breathtaking peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The result is a record that sees the band increase the dynamics of their compositions while incorporating an even wider spectrum of sounds. “We wanted to make a pivot with this new record, slow things down and experiment with different sounds,” continues Rich, pointing to further influences ranging from Radiohead to Neurosis. Indeed the choppy bass lines of album closer ‘Cloak-Noir Bloom’ do hearken back to quintessential experimental rock opus ‘Airbag’, while only moments later the same track breathes the explosive atmosphere of the seminal post-metal act from Oakland, California.
Truthfully, these three musicians sound nothing like a three-piece, but rather like an army, the way they march through their songs. The big, fat murky bass sound of Drew Rauch forms a solid counterbalance to the majestic guitar wizardry of his brother Luke, who channels the spirits of classic guitar heroes like Zakk Wylde and Billy Gibbons. Meanwhile drummer Keith Rich channels the voodoo magic of the nightly tribal drums ringing out across the plains of Central Africa, propelling the potent riffs of the Rauch brothers onward into the heart of darkness, where they continue to morph and restlessly shape-shift.
All across these eight phantasmagorical tracks, DRUIDS portray their unique way of exploring riffs and grooves in multiple ways – both texturally and contextually – exhausting each possibility before moving to the next part and rarely to return to the first. However, instead of rejecting the traditional verse-chorus scheme altogether, the trio has found a new way of playing with certain formulas of song structure at times, while intentionally straying away from them at other times.
Adding to this sonically diverse experience are the many different vocal styles put on display by both Drew and Luke throughout the album. From the solemn chanting on ‘Traveler’ to the earnest and introspective clean vocals on ‘Hide’, from the spoken word part of ‘Ide’s Koan’ to the gut-tearing rasp that fires the listener on in the ‘Dance of Skulls’. Sitting comfortably in the mix at an equal level with the other instruments, the words are often shrouded by the heavy bass sound, carefully concealing their true meaning to the casual listener. Only occasionally will the words reveal themselves – seemingly at just the right time – to those who choose to engage themselves in the deeper layers of the album.
As a seminal psychoanalist, C.G. Jung recognised the need for humans to engage the Shadow, which represents the unknown and suppressed aspects of the personality, including those often considered to be negative. “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate,” is a quote which is often misattributed to him on the web, but it does lead back to statements he made in the latter half of his career, explaining that those who manage to escape the river of subconsciousness are the ones who will see the star of their destiny more clearly. Emerging from the murky waters of the pandemic years, DRUIDS have created a sweeping opus that offers an experience that exists on the interface of expression and introspection. An enlightening mix of psychedelic rock, atmospheric sludge and classic heavy metal that is both deeply rooting and refreshingly uplifting.