It’s been too long since I’ve posted any reviews on here. I keep feeling like I should be adding reviews, but I’ve been writing so much dull, non-music crap for work that I just haven’t been motivated to write about any bands lately. Then I heard Sadartha!
Sadartha is a cool band from Richmond, VA with a unique approach to their sound. Although I definitely see them as a grunge band, they aren’t overly similar to any one famous band. Their influences are so varied that it’s difficult to pin them down as having one sound. They just released their full-length album “Heavy Sound Damage” a couple of months ago (July 2017) and although it has its flaws, it has a lot to offer! There is a lot of variety from song to song. You can tell these guys have a lot of different influences. The recording quality is kind of lo-fi / garage sounding, which works well for the style on most of the songs. The biggest issue for me is sometimes the vocal style, which often uses off-pitch vocals for effect, takes away from the song rather than adding to it. Although there are a few places where that approach works, I think overall the songs would be better if they were sung on pitch.
The album kicks off with the frantic, noisy track “Never Knows Best.” It’s the kind of song that sounds like it could start a fight in a crowd. The drums are aggressive. The bass line stands out and really drives the song. The guitar rounds everything out with an edgy tone being played with an aggression that sounds like all of the strings are about to be broken. The vocals are also aggressive and work well with the vibe of the song. Although I would rather have vocals on pitch, I understand the use of the off-pitch vocal for this type of song.
“Stupid Toy” and several of the other songs on this disc follow the quiet-loud-quiet-loud formula that people want to accuse of sounding like Nirvana. I personally don’t think the song sounds like Nirvana, but I would imagine that would be the comparison most people would make with several songs on this album just because of the frequent use of this formula. Once again bass playing is awesome here. I like the vocals here more than on “Never Knows Best.” They are mostly in pitch and sound good that way, however there is one section where they do go way off pitch near the end of the song. Unlike the previous track where I can understand the choice to sing off-pitch, this time it really doesn’t work even as a stylistic choice, so I’m glad it only happens in one spot.
Instrumentally, “Falling Insane” is a very cool song! Although it’s another quite-loud-quiet-loud song, it’s a very different song from “Stupid Toy.” The drummer tried some interesting tribal sounding beats, the guitar has some trippy affects. Unfortunately, the vocals are significantly off pitch throughout the majority of the song in a way that seems unnecessary.
“Pill” rocks! Drawing from their punk and metal influences, this brash and aggressive song drives hard from start to finish. The vocal style works really well with this one and has very few spots where the vocals are pitchy. It’s one of the stronger songs on the album.
With a cool guitar melodies and driving bass parts, one of my favorite songs on the album is “Insects Last Moments.” Part of the reason for this might be that I love Nirvana and this song is more similar to Nirvana than any of the rest. However, although there are probably Nirvana influences here, I don’t think anyone would confuse this song with anything by Nirvana. It definitely has its own sound and feel. The band released a video for this one, so I’m guessing they feel it’s one of their stronger songs too. It’s also a great example of how off-pitch vocals can work really well in some songs.
Not only is “Translucent” another one of my favorite songs on the album, it also does a couple of things that the other songs don’t. The first time I listened to the song, for the first few seconds I thought the bass guitar was really off, which is weird because the bass playing is so solid for the rest of the album. Then the guitar and drums kicked in and I realized that this really weird bass part fit in perfectly with the rest of the band – a very cool trick! The interplay between the bass and guitar is really amazing on this song! The first half of the song is really mellow, then the distortion kicks in and it goes from a mellow, psychedelic kind of vibe into a into more of a stoner rock song, but while retaining some of the psychedelic elements that make the song so cool. Also, this one has some of the best vocals on the album.
Musically, “Brittle Bullet” kills! It pulls from some cool 90s stoner rock influences mixed with a hint of Black Sabbath. At it’s best, the vocals sound reminiscent of Alice In Chains, but the sections that don’t sound like A.I.C. are off-pitch in a way that doesn’t even sound like it was done for affect. They just sound bad. It’s unfortunate because I think if the vocals were all on pitch, this would be a killer song!
A strange thing happens with the next two songs: “Manic Fits” and “Blasphemer.” Although “Manic Fits” starts out with a really cool, mellow guitar / bass part, this feels like a demo with some great ideas that were never fully developed. There are a couple of hooks that almost work. I think a good producer could have turned this one into an amazing, unique song. But as it stands, it feels unfinished. In my opinion, this one had a lot of potential, but ends up feeling like a good idea that would have benefited from more development time.
Immediately following “Manic Fits” we have “Blasphemer.” This song kicks ass! It’s heavy, driving and 100% cool just as it is. There are some awesome vocals parts that are very different from anything else on the album. But the weird thing is, this entire song sounds like the band took the vibe they had for the heavy parts of “Manic Fits” and wrote a new song around that vibe. After hearing “Blasphemer” I’m even more confident that with a little more time, they could have forged “Manic Fits” a much better song.
If you played a song from the 1960s through a “Nirvana” emulator app while singing it in the wrong key, you’d have the song “Heartworms.” I don’t know if I love this song or hate it. I’ve listened to it several times to try to answer that question. There’s so much musically wrong with here, yet the result is almost endearing. I’m not even sure the bassist and the guitarist are playing in the same key. If you don’t like quirky music, this definitely isn’t a song for you, but it almost has a Sid Barrett solo album thing going on.
“Mind Vomit” sounds like a cross between Black Flag and Fugazi with hints of The Sex Pistols while still sounding exactly like Sadartha.
The album finishes out with “Permeate The Ether.” After listening to each song on the album several times by this point, I feel like I have a good understanding of what Sadartha is all about. If I had listened to this song first, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much, but putting this song at the end of the album is the right placement. It’s a very cool, dark, psychedelic instrumental track with thick effects. It feels like it could have been written specifically to conclude the album. I almost feel like I should be watching the album credits scroll across my monitor while I listen to this song.
With this album, Sadartha has presented the listener with a world of music that all works together very well. Despite their variety of influences, they definitely have their own unique style. It’s not pop-friendly. It’s not pre-packaged for the average consumer. You won’t hear any of these songs playing in the background at your favorite local chain restaurant. But if you have a taste for something new, dark and odd with a distinct grunge feel, give “Heavy Sound Damage” a chance.
Here’s a link to their facebook page.