Belgium’s Creature with the Atom Brain has so mastered sludgy, bluesy rock that it’s easy to imagine the Antwerp quartet sharing a case of Stella Artois with the likes of Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan. With the band’s second full-length release, Transylvania, it appears that that’s almost exactly what happened.
Lanegan shows up to provide vocals and Queens of the Stone Age mixer Chris Goss handles the dials and switches, giving Transylvania that lazy, dusty desert feel.
But Creature with the Atom Brain doesn’t just sit back and plunder someone else’s vibe, mind you, and their music gains a whole other layer thanks to the darker roots of goth and metal. The resulting haze is worth more than a few spins from fans of good old-fashioned stoner rock.
Now to some, that whole indolent, seen-it-all feel might just be Transylvania’s undoing. Make no mistake about it, these 10 songs really do sound sluggish at times. And while the band does attempt to ramp things up at times, for the most part there’s just no escaping the idea that things are stuck in the black sludge.
It makes sense that the band is touring with Alice in Chains, as Creature with the Atom Brain spends an awful lot of time calling up the spirits of sinister harmonies and snaking, screeching guitar work. There’s even a touch of haunting slide guitar touching the obscure edges of “Something is Wrong.”
The real question, then, is whether or not the whole sludgy, gloomy, languid vibe works for these guys or whether the slow burning act is just tired.
Tracks like “I Rise the Moon” and “Make Noise” really prove how successful Creature with the Atom Brain can be at making noisy sludge rock. With a fuzzy, deep low end and Aldo Strulf’s vocals, the two tracks should fuel many a slow headbang.
Lanegan’s vocal turn on “Lonely Light” is a highlight. Goss works a drum machine and passes along some backing vocals, while Koen Kohlbacher from Birds that Change Colour also joins the slow-moving party.
In the end, Transylvania is a record all about the deep, dark groove. The lack of overall tempo and zeal may be off-putting for some, but the resultant stoner cloud is a cool and murky album worth a few spins. The addition of some fine Belgian beer and perhaps a recreational drug of choice may help, too.