With song titles like “High Mountain Pass” and “Land of the Sky,” you might think that American Hollow, the latest effort from local four-piece Bask is a bluegrass offering. You would be wrong. From the opening guitar riffs of “High Mountain Pass,” the album asserts itself with coiling intensity and crushing percussion.
On its Bandcamp page, Bask says that its sonic assault is “topped with vocals that conjure spirits of old country crooners,” though these are possessed spirits with scores to settle and dead to waken. Which is not to say that American Hollow is without its soft side. The title track is lush and shimmery, with nods to psychedelia. But those swirling melodies take their mystical and otherworldly cues from Appalachian mists more than ’60s-era lava lamps — which is to say that this is a fresh take on heavy rock, with room to breath.
“Land of the Sky” is more ominous, its drum beat a military cadence and its guitars snarling with the approach. At more than eight minutes, the song has time to unfurl. The band stretches out, exploring levels of intensity and time signatures, finding its footing. This is not a song of movements so much — Bask doesn’t mess round with rock opera melodrama. Instead, the inclination seems to be to set a scene. At the five-minute mark there’s the low menace of engines and then an adrenaline-fueled take off which elevates the song from its dark roots to a vertical ascent. The vocals here are guttural screams, used sparingly and aptly.
“Shake the Soot from Your Boots” parlays an ambling, melancholy start into a kind of desperado alt-country melody that soon morphs into metal and reverb. The band’s knack for fusing unlikely genres shines here — as does the thoughtful lyric writing, delivered in clean takes between grungy refrains. “A Man’s Worth” also puts the vocals up front. That song, a haunted waltz, is underscored by cool tones and a steely keen before building into a rock anthem around the four-minute mark.
Final track “Endless Summer” is — at nearly nine minutes — close to endless. The song feels fabled and autumnal, its melody lines rising above crisp percussion and the controlled thunder of the low end. This song is composed in movements, with pauses for breath between the vocal section, the pastoral section and the final pummel of the home stretch. But even in its most forceful moments, “Endless Summer” — like the album overall — is never hurried or overplayed. It’s a record that knows what it wants to be, and each song plays like a completed sentence in a well-told story.