Desert Storm’s fifth album ‘Omens’ marks their sophomore release on APF Records. Finally having found a cohesive sound on 2018’s Sentinels, which eschewed the straight-up blues rock influences of old in favour of an album focused on progressive yet hard-hitting stoner sludge, the subsequent album cycle saw them perform with the likes of Corrosion of Conformity, Raging Speedhorn and Boss Keloid.
Elliot and Ryan Cole (drums and guitar) also launched the debut album of their side project, The Grand Mal, in what proved a busy couple of years for the band. Amongst all of this activity, Desert Storm wrote and recorded a follow-up to Sentinels. It follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, with well-executed progressive ambition and sludgy heaviness.
‘Omens’, a chilling, spoken word prologue, sets a dark and sombre tone for the album as ‘Black Bile’ kicks in. With guitar work reminiscent of their acclaimed genre peers in Boss Keloid, it is bursting with key and time changes that create an impressive wall of sound. The slick production prevents the heavily detuned guitars from becoming murky and indistinguishable in the mix, although the astute lack of over-polish retains Desert Storm’s heavy sludge metal ideals.
‘Vengeful Gods’ follows, with a clear groove throughout. They introduce the song with a clever 5/4 riff that manages to sound natural without sounding abrupt, as is an easy trap to fall into with odd time signatures. The chorus sections have gentle vocal harmonies, the first instance in the band’s thirteen-year career that they have employed them. It is testament to the band’s sonic aspiration that they continue to expand their soundscape at this point in their lifespan.
Many of the biggest names in sludge metal (see Eyehategod, High on Fire or Down) tend to rely on a monophonic, uncompromising vocal delivery. Vocalist Matt Ryan is more than capable of gravelly, abrasive roars as many of the band’s clear influences surely do – yet Desert Storm commendably seek more, in order to hone their individualised sound.
There are enough heavy elements to satisfy the typical sludge metal fan, although they lie amid numerous moments of melody across the album. The psychedelic, desert rock-inspired intro to ‘The Path of Most Resistance’ allows Matt Ryan to demonstrate his impressive bass vocal range, just as a breakdown midway through ‘The Machine’ subtly alternates softly strummed major and minor chords to provide contrast to what is, for the most part, a brutal, monolithic piece of music.
Closing track ‘Rebirth’ is possibly the best example of the Jekyll to Desert Storm’s (better-known) Hyde. A contemplative acoustic track, with further vocal harmonisation and an organ audible in the mix, it brings proceedings to a quiet halt. The soft guitar work manages to impress the listener without collapsing into over-complicated, self-indulgent playing for its own sake. Lyrics such as “life is finite, yet we are eternal” leave the album on a reflective note in beautiful contrast to the gloomy, apocalyptic nature of the preceding seven tracks.
Desert Storm’s fifth may be their best yet. Retaining the cohesive sound of Sentinels, but brought to another dimension, the lighter moments shine more brightly than before as the darker moments manifest themselves as the blackest void. It is perhaps most frustrating of all that this album only runs for 39 minutes.