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Album Review: Sweat Lodge – Talismana

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Austin’s Sweat Lodge stood before a foreboding yellow sky, each member donning vintage Dallas Cowboys apparel. Appearing on the back of the band’s self-titled EP, released in 2012 on American Icon, this image epitomized Sweat Lodge’s regional brand of heavy rock. Like ZZ Top before them, Sweat Lodge has Texas seeping from its sound. Frontman Cody Lee Johnston’s soulful howl evokes a century of Texas bluesmen, while the band’s tight rhythm section of bassist Austin Shockley and drummer Caleb Dawson demands Dusty Hill-Frank Beard comparisons.

For years, Sweat Lodge remained a guitarless trio. Alongside acts like The Well, they helped forge Austin’s now thriving metal/stoner rock scene. Though their minimal, bass-heavy approach was novel, the songwriting begged for additional layers of guitar — riffs, solos — and Javier Gardea and Dustin Anderson eventually joined to complete Sweat Lodge’s current lineup as a quintet. Talismana, the band’s first album, is the fruit of that development and a testament to their growth, both in numbers and as craftsmen of heavy melodies.

This evolution is most evident on “Slow Burn”, a track that originally appeared on that 2012 EP. The song’s structure hasn’t changed, but the squall of string bends and shredding fills out the sonic field, creating a massive buildup as the track moves between hazy Saint Vitus doom riffs and a galloping garage-punk climax. Tracks like the ferocious “Bed of Ashes” and the multi-movement progressions of “Boogie Bride” tout dynamics that would’ve sounded empty and incomplete in the vocal/bass/drum format.

Sweat Lodge has augmented its core sound with Gardea and Anderson’s interwoven riffs. It’s the kind of fateful joining of forces — the original trio, already tight and gig-ready, plus two excellent guitarists who seem perfectly suited for Sweat Lodge — that takes a band from regional success to national recognition. (The band appeared on Last Call with Carson Daly in February.) The parallel of Phil Anselmo joining Pantera comes to mind: Underground Texas band finds missing ingredient, achieves stardom.

Talismana has that potential. Unlike so many niche heavy records, it seeks to appeal to fans of rock, not just a small contingent of stoners and doom heads. The R&B chorus of “Black Horizon”, which touts a world-class vocal performance from Johnston, combined with fat Zeppelin riffing, is, simply put, some shit you don’t hear every day. Its individuality is the stuff of scene transcendence, record sales, and sold-out tours, to which Sweat Lodge seems well on its way.

Essential Tracks: “Slow Burn”, “Black Horizon”

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