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Monday, August 15, 2011

Album Review: Admiral Browning - Battle Stations

Admiral Browning - Battle Stations
2011 Admiral Browning
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Hell outta Maryland, originating point of the mighty Clutch, comes another low-tuned dropkick upside your head with more than a bit of a prog twist, Admiral Browning. Not so much another Mastodon but fried in the same everyman's greasy skillet, Admiral Browning is the scruffy bear version of classic Rush and King Crimson meets Stinking Lizaveta and Totimoshi.

Sure, the chin rug of Ron McGinnis makes Admiral Browning scruffy on the facade and they certainly kick up the amplifiers and the audile hallucinogenics, but let's not take the cheating path and call these guys a stoner band. There's hardly any steady SoCal grooves like Fu Manchu nor does Admiral Browning wallow in cataclysmic distortion like Weedeater. You might feel like you've gobbled a magic mushroom in spots while consuming Admiral Browning's calculated aesthetics, but they are a band you want your sensors cleared out for.

How this band has only maintained a mostly Delmarva-based cult audience is left attributed to the fact we just have too many damn bands in the world, much less the United States alone. Yet Admiral Browning's Battle Stations is their fourth album in an eight year span. Over the course of concocting the winning ingredients to their sludgy brain stew, Admiral Browning has pared down from a quartet to a trio. Following their previous outing Magic Elixir, Admiral Browning found themselves engulfed in a morass of recorded compositions and it's to their credit they delivered only 37 minutes of focused and refined prog-bonk on Battle Stations.

Admiral Browning may find themselves in the company of doom bands, which is probably a comfortable pairing giving the sonic din and occasional chord drags this band employs. Yet Admiral Browning has a much busier vibe going on inside their instrumentals where journeys and soundscapes are more important to these guys than merely clouting would-be listeners with agro crunch and alms to blackness.

There's viable power ala Caress of Steel and A Farewell to Kings era Rush in the 7-minute opening number "Riff Crisis." Not that Tim Otis, Matt Legrow and Ron McGinnis can match the flailing wizardry of Neil Peart and company, but they don't need to in order to capture the gusty progressive essence of early Rush. Subsequently, there's an exhaustive exhiliration left in the wake of "The Binary Language of Moisture Vaporators" (as well as the crazy title of the song that has this writer strangely thinking of Luke Skywalker's desert farm owned by his Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru) even at its mostly lumbering pace and wah-screeching hydraulics.

Once "The Binary Language of Moisture Vaporators" latches onto a sequence of detailed time signature swerves, you don't necessarily know if Admiral Browning is dropping anchor or opening sail to unexpected knots ready to haul them elsewhere. You can hear these guys literally exploring every crevice of "Binary" and still they respect their audience enough to keep the wank out of the ride. Always a smart play when you're fair-handed even at 12 minutes.

If you don't feel like you've been throttled through the booming aeronautics of "Dreams of Hammurabi," then you might've left the room to take too long of a whiz during the track's momentum-skidding quietudes which are really designed to give everyone (including Admiral Browning) a brief respite from the bellowing abrasion and encapsulated note-hungriness. The way "Dreams of Hammurabi" comes raging out with a tempest of aggression and a pinpointed slam is enough to make you wipe sweat off your brow, much less the band.

Along the way, Admiral Browning molds "One Lucky Canary" and "Interlude" with acoustics, tabla, bongos, electronic supplements and ear-tingling clean notes, offering portal escape into wherever you imagine before they haul you straight back into their raging waters. Fellow Marylanders Wooly Mammoth can probably match Admiral Browning in the decibel department, but stand prepared to discern and dissect what Admiral Browning spills out, as there are plenty of minute technicalities amidst their abstract sonic overtures.

Admiral Browning may or may not catch on through the rest of the country (though they have been reaching live stage summits as far as Wisconsin and Arizona) and if they don't, it's only because the underground is stuffed abound with sludge-guzzling artisans. Still, what's enviable about Admiral Browning is how much fun they're having with their craft and moreover, how intelligent they are in showing restraint to serve up only their best. The outtakes and leftover music Admiral Browning cut from Battle Stations and their previous albums may be reworked at a later date, but it's their patience and strategic discipline that allows for their own creative development. That says all in a contemporary music industry that hardly permits artist development.

Rating: ****


Metal Mark said...

Wow, you managed to mention six other bands in the opening paragraph alone. That might be a record for you.

I agree that it's a great album. I like the cover a lot too.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

It's a talent, lol... I thought the cover packaging was way cool. The robot looks like Shadowhawk in the first frame before shedding some of the plating to become metallic assassin.

Metal Mark said...

The cover is great. I bought a shirt from them that has the band name and album title small in the pocket area, but the cool part is the back is this whole blueprint looking image of the robot from different angles. He does look a bit like Shadowhawk. I alwasy like those early Image characters a lot.