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Planetstruck Review

by Mark Hensch

Clocking in at a mere 22 minutes and with naught but five songs, this self-titled debut from Chicago three-piece Planetstruck is a lot like hopping on the highway in Iowa; it won't take long, it will go by fast, but it isn't anything new in terms of the sights. Wearing its influences on its sleeves and leaving no doubt as to what it is going for, Planetstruck is a decent demo for a band just starting out and has plenty of potential. It isn't for fans of innovation, so if you like your music original you might wanna pass this one by. Personally speaking, I love pretty much anything doom so I at least checked this out. Here is what I found:

The order of the day here seems to be sludged-out extreme doom. Though Eyehategod and/or Buzz*Oven might have a little bit of allowance owed to them thanks to the disc's churning distortion, the real inspiration here is undoubtedly a cross between the Melvins and Electric Wizard. The disc has a surreal, glue-sniffing sense of humor (check out titles like "Eating Staples" for an example) that owes much to Buzz and his Melvins, while the music itself is the ultra-sloooooow traditional doom perversion of Electric Wizard. In fact, as far as doom goes, this is as straightforward and basic as it gets, just louder, lower, and heavier.

"White Squall" is a textbook specimen of the type, its churning bass providing a steady backbone for the pummeling, oozing riffs that punch your face again-and-again. The vocals are in the Electric Wizard vein as well---existentialist stream-of-consciousness type talking, with occasional howls or screams. I've always found that to be the biggest turnoff about EW, and it is no different here. They sound like they were simply added on, except towards the song's fist-pumping finale in which a massive sludge breakdown manifests itself in your agonized ears while the band slavers and howls like a dog caught by a land-mine.

"The Sea is Angry" follows the above formula so well I had trouble discerning the two songs from one another. Low-end rumble, rattling bass lines, confrontational and splash-centric percussion are the norm, and there is plenty of rhythmic thump here as well. Periods of tense droning occur, and the song builds dread with sinister tones and restrained instrument-playing. It all sounds like a massive breakdown slowed to glacial speeds, but at a little over 7 minutes this isn't always a good thing. A bit more variation and fluidity might have helped, but things get better as some fairly manic screeches bleed out of the mix somewhere in there as well as an old-fashioned ass-kicking guitar solo. Overall a decent effort...

"The Ham & Eggs Fire" builds off some moody notes and expectant cymbal work. As much as I want to like it, the mid-tempo sludge explosion that it climaxes into is so obvious I can't help but be a little exasperated---there are few surprises thus far on this disc. The Melvins have hook-y sludge just like this, and essentially this is an EXTREMELY low grunge anthem. A bass solo of sorts vaguely recalls Tool for whatever reason and then the song builds out of it again into yet another gargantuan doom festival.

"Drooling" is a cool little ditty; I dig the intro riff as it is matches the thundering percussion effortlessly and segues into some interesting fret-work shortly thereafter. The vocals shift between taunting sing-song and deranged catharsis, ebbing-and-flowing with the song 100%. In case you can't tell, this is where I feel the band has really hit their stride, as it shows all Planetstruck has going for them. In one simple track, the band shows off complicated dynamics between dirty-soft and dirty-LOUD guitars, gripping, emotionally unstable vocals, and thick, Earth-shaking guitar distortion. I'd love to hear more future tracks in this vein.

"Eating Staples" closes things out with a harried riff that skitters and crawls over shattered glass percussion all before screaming in an outburst of excruciating agony. Gargantuan, bulky, and made out of mixed concrete, the song is both heavy and unyielding. Its "f*** off" density effectively seals the second-half of the demo as the far surperior one, and for a brief instant or three this cut reminded me of my Tasmanian space-doom buddies in Space Raven, no strangers to this HHH column of mine. Unlike that band, Planetstruck showcase a unique ability to see-saw between slow-slow and fast-slow on this track. At first glace, that probably makes no sense, but let me try to elaborate. "Eating Staples" is always plodding and doom, but Planetstruck somehow have built subtle nuances of tempo-variation into the mix to make it appear faster or slower at whim. It makes for a pretty cool track and its abrupt finish definitely leaves a person craving more.

There's much to love and much to hate on this. Like many newly recorded acts, Planetstruck are still working out kinks in their identity---I love Electric Wizard, but no band can perfectly match their formula without sounding inferior. That isn't to say Planetstruck is a bunch of plagiarizing bastards or without any entertaining aspects---nothing could be further from the truth! The band employs tongue-in-cheek nihilism, an inherent knack for writing big hooks, and chugging grooves in ways that Electric Wizard never have and probably never will. The production is fairly top-notch, with just enough scuzz on the top to give it some credibility, and I could see these guys being an excellent Unsane opening act down the road. The percussion is pretty much perfect doom, what with the snail-crawl pace and furious intent behind it. Keep these traits and perhaps let the guitars wander around a bit next time (that solo in "The Sea is Angry" is pretty bitching) and I'm thinking the next release will be doozy.

1. White Squall
2. The Sea is Angry
3. The Ham & Eggs Fire
4. Drooling
5. Eating Staples

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