Lying down, headphones blasting in the dim light of a laptop, one word kept coming to mind, over and over: excellent. That’s Pacific Northwest metal legends Mos Generator’s new album Nomads, their first in five years. Maybe due to frontman/guitarist Tony Reed’s involvement with Stone Axe, this one has a lot less in common with Mos Generator’s artsy, apocalyptic 2005 masterpiece The Late Great Planet Earth than it does with their thunderous but nimble early-zeros roots. Like innumerable stoner metal acts, Mos Generator looks back to early Sabbath, but what differentiates them from all the imitators is their songwriting. Hell, Sabbath had a top 40 hit: heavy as that band’s songs were, they were catchy, and Mos Generator shares that gift for melody. The songs here have the kind of weight you find at the ass end of the period table, but aside from a couple of tracks toward the end of the album that have tongue-in-cheek power-ballad interludes, there’s nothing even remotely pop about them.
Reed has been a fine player for a long time; he can shred with anybody, but what makes him different is that he usually doesn’t. His solos are about making a point, hitting a phrase head-on for maximum impact, taking a crescendo over the cliff so it takes out a whole village of idiots when it lands rather than self-destructing halfway down. Case in point: the fourth track here, Step Up. Evil bleeding chromatics give way to a brontosaurus stomp as Scooter Haslip’s melodic bass rises ominously. Reed hits his fuzztone pedal and then goes into some searing blues. They run another verse, then he takes off, savagely but also judicious and bluesy, high above the lush, multitracked layers of roar. And then he suddenly hits a supersonic flurry of tapping that instantly takes the energy level into the red. It’s the only time on the album he does it. Compare that with, say, Yngwie Malmsteen.
The first couple of tracks, Cosmic Ark and Lonely One Kenobi, are a clinic in how to build a song, heavy riffage anchoring a constant shift in tones and timbres: lingering acidic flange lines, aching Jimmy Page vibrato, searing upper-register icepick attacks like Buck Dharma on…hmmmm….take a guess. The third track, Torches, looks back to British bands like Nazareth with its sludgy thump and Stonehenge lyrics. Solar Angels is a feast of smoldering, screaming, burning textures, again evoking Blue Oyster Cult at their most confrontationally direct. Haslip and drummer Shawn Johnson stand out most impressively on the early Maiden-flavored For Your Blood, with its growly Steve Harris gallop giving off noxious fumes underneath Reed’s doubletracked solo.
Finally, at the end of the album, the band revisits the mind-warping majesty of The Late Great Planet Earth with This Is the Gift of Nature, an apocalyptic epic full of tricky polyrhythms and dark bluesfunk-tinted passages that echo bands like Rare Earth and the Isley Bros. – but from the bottom of a well, darkly. The only thing anybody could possibly want after this is a reissue of that 2005 album – which is coming, along with this one, from Ripple Music. Lots of stuff, audio and video, up at their site.