THE HIDDEN HAND
"The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote"

(Southern Lord)

01. Purple Neon Dream
02. Someday Soon
03. Dark Horizons
04. Spiritually Bereft
05. The Lesson
06. Majestic Presence
07. The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote
08. Lightning Hill
09. Broke Dog
10. Slow Rain

RATING: 9/10

Stoner rock isn't exactly known for its innovative streak — many of its most beloved practitioners are content to fire off the same turbo-charged riffs and yowl like wigged-out surfers about the usual velvet-poster topics. All well and good, but that just makes it all the odder when one of the genre's leading lights — former OBSESSED and SAINT VITUS man Scott "Wino" Weinrich — hooks up with some indie-rock dudes and goes off on an altogether more murky, psychedelic, mysterious direction. THE HIDDEN HAND has spent much of its short career plumbing conspiracy theories and seeking deeper truths; now, on this strange and spooky third record, they tie their thirst for rebellion into a quasi-concept album about a shadowy figure from America's earliest days.

The imagery fits the music — the production here is raw and ragged, with Bruce Falkinburg's bass as loud as the guitar, and the whole thing pushing like it was recorded live, with the needles buried in the red, the drums clattering and the cymbals cutting through the opaque low tones emanating from the amps. "Purple Neon Dream" and "Someday Soon" are almost like twin intros, more than actual songs — short, weird statements of intent, the first spacey in that "Planet Caravan" way, the second lurching forward with a doomy, grimacing, haunted vibe, growing gradually more insistent in its propulsive dirge until the tension is nearly unbearable.

Don't get the wrong idea here — Wino is still the master of inimitable ham-fisted heavy rock riffs, and "Dark Horizons" throws you one at the last possible second, just when you were starting to worry if the whole record was gonna leave you jonesing for 'em. "Spiritually Bereft" and "Majestic Presence" are most reminiscent of classic OBSESSED — smooth, deceptively simple riffing with a doom tinge, and Wino in fine, plaintive voice. Even here, though, Falkinburg's bass is almost a physical presence, a sinister growl, while drummer Evan Tanner (replaced after the recording by BISON and MEDIC drummer Matt Moulis) is more percussive and insistent. There's an energy running through THE HIDDEN HAND, born of the band's divergent influences and the improvisational streak they've developed — this is biker rock for intellectuals, earnest psychedelic headtrips for stoner heads unafraid to wiggle out of the SABBATH paradigm for a few mind-expanding moments.

"The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote" is quite a trip — from its early moments of oppressive darkness, the title track catapults us into a wide-open groove and lets in some sunshine, and "Lightning Hill" follows it up, an exuberant and defiant rave-up. Things get downright apocalyptic in "Broke Dog" (where, God help us, Falkinburg sounds a bit like Blackie Lawless, and it works just fine), where the sound of the record seems to get even dirtier, the band practically falling off the rails in their urgent dash to the finish line (complete with several false endings that'll startle you). And "Slow Rain" ties it all together with an infusion of psychedelia and long passages born of late-night jams and dark, smoky rooms.

THE HIDDEN HAND are onto something here, at a crossroads in their existence, offering enough of the warm, familiar sound of Wino's past to entice his fans, while setting off in new directions and opening the door for the curious to follow. The band has come into its own on "The Resurrection of Whiskey Foote", turning these divergent influences into one charismatic, ragged, timeless sound — the mud and grit of primal hard rock brought into a rarefied realm and given a higher purpose, without losing its innate ability to kick ass. A cantankerous, eccentric, and thoroughly essential album.

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