Engaging and successful music comes in two forms for me. A few artists have the drive to try new things and experiment with new sounds. The new Xiu Xiu album I just reviewed is something I’ve never heard before. It was delightful to listen to because it was a surprising and unconventional adventure. Then there’s plenty of artists who manage to make convincing, exciting music in an already established style. The new Soilwork album I reviewed falls into this camp. They play melodic death metal and they’re damn good at it, playing to their strengths in the genre. There’s plenty of risk with both methods. Just because something is experimental and different doesn’t automatically make it strong. Paying homage to a style can lead to things like Greta Van Fleet – an unfortunately successful compromise of creativity that needs to be stomped to death before it can spread.
Gramma Vedetta knows how to pay proper homage. Nothing they’re doing on Proof of Concept is really different. But they do the classic rock sound justice, and I can’t place them too comfortably into the middle of an Ozzy-era Black Sabbath record. Retro music is only cool if it creates an impression of the past, not replication. A song like “Taranto Train to Toronto Town” has its roots in Sabotage fireworks, but it lashes out with an odd, Zappa-like humor.
Sabbath does stick out to me as a huge influence here, but in a fashion that extends beyond instrument and chord choice. When the vocals swoop in on “Address Unknown,” I get the Sabbath vision of a mystic, stoner Satanist in a blue-collar suit in the midst of a blissful, peyote trip into hell. This is all purple cauldrons of fire and a cold sun on a black desert. But I don’t see Ozzy out there, flashing his tattooed OZZY hand in devil horns. I see…whatever “Dan on Vocals” looks like…a pizza delivery guy holding a lava lamp filled with blood. That’s the key difference here. This band manages to remain their own brand.
None of this would matter if the playing wasn’t there, but it is. “Behind the Blinds” comes in like Ritchie Blackmore riding a unicorn. The riffs are old, classy, and spirited. The drumming, bass, and vocals serve the song in comfortable, confident strokes. I particularly love the detour into a filthy bit of lo-fi before careening back into a swaying breakdown. It’s these moments peppered throughout Proof of Concept – the minor psychedelic dunks, the strange vocal accents, the grungy strums – that keeps things exciting and compositionally professional.
This is proof that blues rock can still be engaging. All the things that make retro a success are on display on Proof of Concept – soul, grit, groove and that little bit of mystique. It’s a fantastic little EP.
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