Across Tundras: SAGE

Wed Jul 20 2011

Of all the bands that have been ripping off Black Sabbath for the past 40 years or so, few have done it with as much passion and spirit of adventure and creativity as Tanner Olson.  In his quest for the perfect, all-encompassing riff, of course he’s going to stumble across a couple of Iommi nuggets along the way; shouldn’t “Hole In The Sky” be public domain at this point?  But unlike the entire stoner rock genre, there’s so much more going on in the music of Across Tundras.  So much, in fact, that I’d argue Olson has created a completely new genre by infusing rockabilly, country and tribal rhythms into his echo-drenched, spacious, quasi-metallic stew.  I know it’s the domain of the music critic to invent new labels and covet them like awards, but I’m abandoning that idea for now, unless I can coin “awesome” as a genre.

The album opens with a track that could only work as a closer for any other band; it’s a sweeping, majestic epic that culminates in a swirling gallop to the finish.  It leaves you feeling like you just ran a marathon, and won.  If there’s a single word to best describe Olson’s guitar work here, the feeling incurable riff hounds get a lot when we hear Olson play guitar, it’s exhilarating.  Actual original riffs that massage pressure points from the 70s are exceedingly rare in this century, yet somehow Olson keeps channeling them year after year and song after song.  And this band has no Wikipedia entry.

To describe all the epics on this album would be tedious.  These songs go on like a wagon train, and in the midst of some heated battles you might forget you’re still in the same piece that started seven minutes ago.  But the highlight might be a four-minute ditty called “Buried Arrows”, featuring a guest spot by Nashville chanteuse Lilly Hiatt.  This one’s not metal by any stretch; its mood is rockabilly crossed with serene Native American rhythms and the lonesome Western wistfulness that defines Across Tundras, but particularly during its chorus, it’s still exhilarating.  Olson knows how to string you along in mournful sedation and build tension almost endlessly, but it’s the bursts of warmth and elation that make this album so satisfying.

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