German stoner rock group, Kadavar, return with their fourth album in five years. The title track starts things off as the trio mean to go on. The colossal bass guitar is pushed to the fore, relegating the guitar and drums, except for the splashy cymbals, to supporting roles. The guitar is a weedy fuzz. The snare and bass drums are mere extensions of Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup’s sound. Even the vocals are mixed lower than the downtuned behemoth.
The power trio's structure of the band has always demanded that the bass is accentuated. It had its own spotlight on 2015’s Berlin but Rough Times, yet lead single ‘Into the Wormhole’ announced that this record is a different beast altogether. Where the likes of ‘Last Living Dinosaur’ and ‘Filthy Illusion’ were updated versions of ‘60s and ‘70s stoner rock, Rough Times favours rhythm and noise over big riffs and choruses. Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann’s guitar is now more ‘Search And Destroy’ than ‘Smoke On The Water’.
That said, ‘Skeleton Blues’ is more like what you would have expected from Kadavar. Like Hawkwind jamming with Budgie via Witchcraft, it’s a proggy, druggy riff-fest in search of a tune. Fortunately ‘Die Baby Die’, the second single from Rough Times, arrives to lead the way. Their recent tour with Wolfmother has rubbed off on this track; the powerhouse vocals and singalong chorus are only the gravy on this meaty tune.
And with that, Rough Times turns a corner. ‘Vampires’ opens with a fuzzy single note riff and a beat that will have your toes tapping. It’s like a live show where the opening songs sound a bit off but by the time the band really hit their stride the engineer has worked out the kinks in the mix and the sound settles. ‘Words Of Evil’ pivots on an Iommi riff, or two, chugging along at a brisk pace, forcing heads to bang wherever it goes. The addition of the organ/woodwind instruments in ‘The Lost Child’ give it a hippy Jethro Tull feel.
Rough Times replicates the schizophrenic unpredictability of Berlin but reverses it. While the latter lead strongly with the accessible tunes upfront before descending into the impenetrable tumult of heavy psychedelia, the dichotomous halves of Rough Times are presented back to front. What starts out as a challenging listen eases up incrementally, peaking, or perhaps troughing would be more accurate, in the Lynyrd Skynyrd balladry of ‘You Found The Best In Me’. It would be surprising in the extreme if this fabulous song doesn’t get a single release.
It’s impossible to hear Kadavar and not mention Black Sabbath but Rough Times is more Dio than the Ozzy-era. Perhaps their next release will explore the tenure of Tony ‘The Cat’ Martin? Like its predecessor, Rough Times is a mixed bag but it contains some of Kadavar’s finest work to date, but they are still frustratingly inconsistent. Are four albums in such quick succession too much? If they could maintain the standard of ‘Words Of Evil’ and ‘You Found The Best In Me’ for an entire record, Kadavar would be world beaters. But then they would probably hate that, so best they continue to confound.
Rough Times is available via iTunes.