Rhythm & Views

Spirit Caravan

Long before the stoner rock noose tightened to the strangling point around the necks of groups like Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet and Queens of the Stone Age, there existed seminal L.A. gloom punks St. Vitus and a Washington, D.C.-based doom metal act known as the Obsessed. Both led by singer-guitarist Scott "Wino" Weinrich, they fused the explosive proto-punk fury of the Stooges with the foot-stomping straightforwardness of Grand Funk Railroad and the acid-tinged space-rock of Hawkwind, while maintaining a devotion to early Black Sabbath.

Resurrected from the rotting corpses of the Obsessed (which crashed and burned by 1996) is Wino's "stoner-doom-biker rock" outfit Spirit Caravan. With a low, rumbling wail that is a dead ringer for Sabbath Bloody Sabbath-era Ozzy and a slightly faster, more melodic sonic edge threading through the electric sludge, Spirit Caravan is certainly not breaking any new ground here. It holds forth like a plundering arena rock dinosaur stuck in the La Brea tar pits circa 1975.

But one must admire the down-tuned, reverberating Brontosaurus riffing that rivals Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity in unvarnished heaviness and pinpoint distortion-soaked execution. The flights of instrumental wizardry and vaguely mythological lyrical imagery of early '70s blues-based heavy rock slugs like Blue Cheer is conjured up superbly on the fitting "Retroman," while "Futility's Reasons" crawls at a Melvins-like death pace akin to a snail slowly sliding across a freshly sharpened razor blade.

The 90-second blast of "Outlaw Wizard" is a demonic, speed-crazed instrumental that rivals Slayer in sheer maniacal velocity, and "Lifer City" is a lightning-swift old punk number where Sabbath collides head-on with Minor Threat, welded into a highly kinetic and twisted roar. The closing number, "The Departure'" is a schizophrenic slugfest of grinding muscle and slow-motion psychedelia that Dave Wyndorf lusts after in his sleep.

Step aside, Ozzy. Spirit Caravan is the newest child of the grave.