GranDuca – Beneath Thy Roots (2019)

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What the release notes included:

The upcoming debut album by GRAN DUCA ( featuring members of DRONE ).

What was on their Facebook page:

Dirty and mean, innovative song structures, Germany’s up and coming power mud rock power unit GRAN DUCA are set to release their first full length album this summer, on June 28th!

Recorded live at ‘Institut for Wohlklangforschung’ by Hannes Huke, GRAN DUCA deliver an exotic mix of raw stoner sounds, complex progressive vibes and a healthy dose of classic rock qualities. 70s retro tunes and a heavy 90s groove without platitudes, GRAN DUCA know how to please the old and new school rock fan! Fuzzy and distorted guitars, thick and deep rhythm lines, raw and authentic vocals, the eleven songs of Beneath Thy Roots are same inventive as catchy.

My impressions:

The release notes sounded intriguing and when I looked through the track list I thought that this album was going to either be epic or pretentious.

“Monstrosity” starts with one drum that accelerates rapidly. The deep and complex sound that was promised in the release notes is immediately apparent, with a stop-start distorted riff. The vocals are clear and genre correct. The first track is 7 minutes long and I was prepared for a rambling exercise in self-indulgence. But… it’s groovy. The musical interludes have a laid back, laid bare groove that is engaging. Some really crisp and clever guitar solos weave their way seamlessly through the track.

“Howlin’ Rollin’” keeps the party rolling with an instrumental opening of the same layered guitars, but the vocals take a step sideways into Red Hot Chilli Peppers territory. Great use of the wah pedal gives a real point of difference.

“Open End” begins with a sole distorted and overdriven guitar that lulls you into a false sense of security. Things then get nasty with heavy guitar and another change in vocals to a rough, plaintive style. It’s a track that aurally grabs you and doesn’t let go.

“Fields to Plow” starts with one guitar and in a grand surprise, the vocals are different again. The arrangement of this track is one of 70s storytelling that follows a pattern of cruisy guitar and percussion, overlaid with similar vocals, swapping to a heavier, driven arrangement, then alternating between the two styles.

“Witchwoman” has the initial standalone guitar to kick of proceedings, but this time percussion and rhythm lines steadfastly build as the track progresses. It’s a track about a beguiling witch woman. This is another example of a track that tells a story, one to which we can relate. The track shifts gears a number of times, using changes in tempo and sound to great effect.

“All Hail the Autowagen” drives forward with fast and furious distorted guitars that don’t let up. They get more complex from time to time, with some rhythm and solo work that catches you out – seemingly surfacing from nowhere. Then, you realise they were there all along, but have just been made more prominent. It’s a track that asks why the person can’t be loved by another. In the middle it slows right down and is pared back to be simple percussion and less distorted guitars. With great patience and poise, things slowly muscle up and it drags you along for the ride. It’s a masterfully crafted piece of accumulation to finish the track.

“Fly with Me” is different again – a shorter track for this album at 3:40 – it has a driving arrangement and is a bit more urgent. It’s a track about freedom and living in the moment. It finishes was an awesome exclamation of frustration from the vocalist that they left in. It’s clever.

“House of Fools” has the guitars wading in. The track continues the theme of thick guitar layers – it’s complex without being suffocating. Under 4 minutes again, the track gets down to business early and the vocals are indeed authentic.

“Panta Rhei” wafts in, with acoustic guitar and a monk chant-like backing. It’s an instrumental track of 2 minutes that had me wondering why it was there. It’s pleasant and crisp.

“The Walk” opens with two very different guitar lines – muted on one side and a driven, melody line on the other. It’s a bit of a departure, but a welcome one. This band isn’t frightened to change things up. It’s another 7 minute track that uses a stylish mix of vocal sections and musical interludes to weave a tale.

A calmer vocal approach opens “Blackened Son” and this is accompanied by a rhythm that is reminiscent of Bon Jovi’s “Wanted, Dead or Alive”. The track gets heavier periodically and it slows, thins, speeds up and thickens out throughout.

From the outset, the feel of this album is elusive – at once it felt 70s inspired, 90s driven and it even wouldn’t be out of place as a movie soundtrack.

I didn’t find myself head banging or foot tapping – I was often too drawn into the sound, actively listening, wondering what was going to come next. Most tracks are over 4 minutes, with many over the 6 minute mark. You know that they are that long – they don’t fly by – but they don’t feel bloated. Vocal sections, augmented by instrumental interludes, give the tracks a rich, intricately layered and purposeful feel.

I really enjoyed that the sound is not clean – that it was recorded live is obvious in the way that you can often hear the progressions across the guitar fretboards. It gives a rich, authentic feel to the album.

Some albums talk about being able to satisfy a breadth of listeners by using a variety of styles from different periods of music. What sometimes results is a bland concoction of tracks that draw from the same elements over and over. Not this one – it walks the walk.

I said at the outset that this album was gong to be epic or pretentious.

It was epic.

8/10

Review by Greg Noble

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