Desert Storm’s fifth full length album ‘Omens’ is a few weeks away, marking their second release on APF Records. 2018’s ‘Sentinels’ was a landmark album for the Storm, arguably their most cohesive-sounding record to date – and maybe their heaviest, as well. In a busy subsequent period for the band, that has seen them play with Corrosion of Conformity in Paris, tour with Raging Speedhorn and Boss Keloid, as well as the launch of the Cole brothers’ (guitar and drums) side project in The Grand Mal, Desert Storm have somehow found time to write another album. Is it any good? Well, yes. Highly progressive, with key, time and dynamic changes, and sludgy as a soggy swamp, ‘Omens’ is a thrilling listen from start to finish.
‘Omens’ opens the album, with a chilling spoken word prologue from Matt Ryan, before ‘Black Bile’ comes in. It’s a career highlight for Desert Storm, with hefty riffs reminiscent of their genre peers in Boss Keloid. It flits neatly in and out of key and time changes, and just straight up sounds big. Released as the first single from the album, it’s a huge statement of intent to set the scene for the rest of the album. ‘Vengeful Gods’ is another groovy, chunky heavy sludge song inviting a fervent dose of headbanging, with more clever off-time guitar play and gently layered vocal harmonies in some of the hooks – a new avenue for Desert Storm, who are utilising them for the first time on ‘Omens’. Performed by guitarist Chris White, they suit extremely well. Desert Storm almost grind things to a halt as Matt Ryan performs another dark monologue over softer instrumentation, before they bring back the heaviness, making space for a monolithic, thrilling climax. ‘Vengeful Gods’ is one of those songs that sounds fairly simple on a casual listen, but the complex elements beneath the surface are definitely not – and this is often the best kind of progressive music.
‘Pain, Grief and Suffering’ follows in similarly from the last two, but is noticeably dirtier and uglier. Not in a bad way, of course. Sludge wouldn’t be what it was if it spent too much time focussing on soft, beautiful melodies – not that Desert Storm can’t do that, at all – but we’ll come to that. ‘Pain’ does eventually slow down to a gentle interlude, with audible pianos in the mix to make it sound sonically fuller and just more satisfying in general, before building it back up to heavy, sludgy glory. A fantastic guitar solo, showing an impressive amount of flair and taste, rounds off ‘Pain’ before an effective vocal crescendo, sounding particularly merciless and desolate by the time Matt spits out ‘pain and suffering forever’ for the last time. ‘The Path of Most Resistance’ has a sombre, psychedelic-tinged intro allowing Matt Ryan to show off his impressive vocal range, as he digs into a deep, bass territory to make the song feel as if it’s being played in the middle of a desert. It’s another riff-athon when it kicks in properly, getting the heads banging away, but in a more melodic sense with more dynamic range than the abrasive gravel heard previously on the album.
Of course, if abrasive gravel is more your thing, ‘The Machine’ comes next, with its enormously heavy guitar riffing. There’s still melodic moments, though, to add some spice and variety. A lovely descending clean guitar passage intelligently switches up major and minor chords – have I mentioned how well Desert Storm do progressive metal? With that said, this is one of the heaviest Desert Storm tunes ever for me, making full use of some of their lowest tunings on record (only 2013’s Shenzhen comes instantly to mind as being lower). ‘Lockjaw’ is also brilliant, kind of like everything great about Mastodon, with jaunty sludge riffs that could have been on their first two albums – and euphoric chorus melodies that could have been on their two most recent. The soft, acoustic ‘Rebirth’ closes the album, with a delicate intro nothing short of fantastic and beautifully harmonised vocal melodies. A subtle organ deep in the production suits the atmosphere perfectly. The guitar work is impressive, without being needlessly flashy, and lyrics such as ‘life is finite, yet we are eternal’ provide a thoughtful contrast to the more apocalyptic lines in the heavier songs. A brilliant album outro.
‘Omens’ is an album that gets better with every listen – there’ll certainly be something new to discover for the first few times it’s spun. Sonically complete with well-placed vocal harmonies and keyboards, it is hard to believe it follows only two years after ‘Sentinels’ – Desert Storm have hit a fine run of creative form. God knows what’ll come next. Progressive sludge metal is probably one of my favourite niche genres, and Desert Storm have all but mastered both elements to create a cohesive (yet full of contrast), highly individual record. Great work.