Alta May – Dark Days
By Graham Isaac
While the basic concept of marrying heavy riffs and hummable melodies is not new, it seems there aren’t many bands at any given time that can do it. Sure, every shitty arena-metal band tries to lay claim to the territory, but generally they confuse heavy with pompous and melodic with brain-dead repetition or cloying melodrama.
Lately, a new breed of bands is trying their hand at catchiness without compromising the rock. Lead by Queens of the Stone Age, this camp includes bands like Burning Brides and proves far more effective than their mainstream counterparts. Alta May falls squarely into this movement, with riffs that combine the grime of Mudhoney with the dry expanse of Kyuss. Featuring former members of The Fluid, Alta May crunch out killer riffs and snarky hooks.
On their new album, Dark Days, they lean more towards the heavy end of the spectrum, thanks in part to production by Jack Endino (Hot Hot Heat, Murder City Devils) and John Ervie. The eight tracks here are thick with bass and fuzz, drums that rollick and rumble and lyrics that never fall into cliché. There’s none of the power-pop choruses found on their 2001 effort We As In Us, like “Moving Target” or “Crown Yourself,” but the overall sound of the record makes up for it.
At points Alta May doesn’t quite overcome some of the limitations of their genre, relying on the wall of sound as an aim in and of itself. But even at these moments there’s a working man’s tough-rock quality that sustains the weaker material.
The album opens with “Dark Days on Black Hill,” perhaps their best song to date, laying smooth vocals over a slamming riff that builds to a sense of desperation by the track’s end. “The Beautiful Sea” works a dreamier angle, with vocals buried under a wash of layered guitars. Also effective are the biting glass-ceiling critique “Boy’s Club” and the trumpet-inflected closer “All Lie Down,” which spirals to its close in a supremely satisfying manner.
There are those who dismiss the idea of heavy rock as viable art, or even relevant music. With this album, Alta May puts themselves solidly among the bands that counter that argument and hint at even greater things to come. – (7.5/10)