Unknown Compelling Force - Fortress of Narzod (Chief Designer Records)
Nothing succeeds like excess and this trio from Melbourne has the concept truly nailed on this seven-track EP, their second release. Studio leakage, a seething fuzz attack and enough strange aural samples to keep it weird, Fortress of Narzod actually turns over new turf in a well-ploughed paddock.
Nailing their colours to the mast of a boat occupied by bands like Sabbath, MC5, Union Carbide Productions and Dead Meadow, Fortress of Narzod comes across as an Antipodean, suburban version of all of the above. No war pigs or bustles in hedgerows here, Fortress of Narzod draws as much inspiration from Michael Moorcock sci-fi novels and video games as doom-laden minor chords.
The biggest problem with worshipping at The Altar of The Holy Riff is that lots of people sound like lots of other people. FoN don’t aim for the low sonic territory of lead-weighted bass-lines like a Kyuss or Monster Magnet, but focus their attack on squarely the abrasive mid-range. They carry a heavy stick but it has sharp edges.
Maybe it’s their garage-punk origins (founder Jim Lewis was in The Naked Eye and The Casanovas) but FoN like to bend things around. The rote riff attack of “Golden Axe” is interrupted by a wave of molten fuzz that comes out of nowhere, yielding to a wash of ghostly keys that would sound like an engineer’s fuck-up if we didn’t know better. (“Who forgot to erase the tape before we used it, maaan?”)
“Long Way Home” wallows nicely in a wash of overdubbed organ, courtesy of bassist-vocalist Lewis, while the punky “Golden Axe” suddenly dives into a mid-stream flow of phased sonic swirl (twice) before guitarist Andrew Pickering’s fuzz-pedal has its way.
“Let Yourself Roam” is prime ‘70s prog rock let loose in a stoner’s man cave with a stash left in far too easy reach. The respectable cover of Buffalo’s “Shylock” that closes the CD lacks the power of the original but that’s no crime. In some ways (and no disrespect meant) the vocals are secondary to what FoN does and nobody did John Baxter’s guitar work like John Baxter.
There’s a CD single that precedes this, a handful of which remain here. You wouldn’t be mad not to give this a whirl but a bit of honest self reflection might be in order, not to mention staying off the brown acid. Just saying.