Released back in March 2016, ‘Sonora’ is the sophomore effort from French stoner rock band Carson Hill (following on from last year’s ‘motherlode’ EP). A six track album (seven, if you include the brief intro that opens the disc), ‘Sonora’ draws upon Sabbath, Kyuss, St Vitus and even a touch of the blues to deliver slow, thick stoner rock with an earthen vibe that proves pretty irresistible. Cruising in with the sort of confidence that comes from a relentless touring schedule, Carson Hill capture perfectly the bleached-bone feel of the open desert with this evocative, mind-melting effort.
Opening with the brief, echoing majesty of intro track, ‘Halo’, ‘Sonora’ gets down to business with the ten minute ‘Back from school’. Adopting a molasses-like crawl, Carson Hill deal in traditional stoner rock, all overdriven Les Pauls fed through vintage tube equipment, and, with singer Benjamin Briatte’s nicotine-stained growl front and centre, there is an authenticity to the band’s blues-infused hard rock that is both enticing and addictive. It’s a dark world that Carson Hill inhabit, and yet one that is dappled with a prog-inspired desire to explore the sonic landscape and, as the track progresses, so shades of Pink Floyd appear amidst the growling bass and molten riffs. Packing a syrupy punch, ‘Until’ cruises in with throbbing bass and hints of Zeppelin before the pace slows once more to a crawl and, with Benjamin’s smoke-shattered vocals, the result is the sound of Jim Morrison fronting Sabbath. Taking a step further into the darkness, the aptly titled ‘Queen of spades’ throbs with menace thanks to Manu’s arcing power chords and Yann’s demonic bass, but when Manu tears into the song’s opening riff proper, we’re suddenly off down an avenue populated by Hawkwind fanatics wearing Cream T shirts and digging on Motorhead. With Amps overloaded to breaking point, it’s a blistering racket and undeniably exciting.
The second half of the album kicks off with the monumental riff of ‘The tide’. Pure, unadulterated doom, it’s an evil album highlight and yet, even in the darkness, the punishing riff gives way to some sublime bluesy soloing. The album’s biggest surprise is the slow, subtle ‘Red moon’ which digs on a latter day Iggy Pop / Johnny Cash vibe, Benjamin’s croon proving to be more powerful than his most bombastic rock roar. It’s a powerful song, despite being the album’s lightest tune and it shows that Carson Hill have a versatility on their side that demands attention. The album ends with the dirty stoner vibe of ‘Evil’s room’, another track that sees Carson Hill draw upon a wide range of influences from the Doors to Trouble and everything along the way, and it’s hard not to be impressed with the way the band shake up their influences and make the music their own.
Before we draw to a final conclusion regarding the music, it’d be a shame not to mention the excellent artwork that adorns the handsome digipack in which the CD comes. Created by Flog Diver, the cover illustrations and inlay fit the music perfectly and, as always, it’s a pleasure to review an album where band and record label have paid as much attention to the packaging and presentation as they have to the music inside. In these days of instant download, it’s more important than ever and you can imagine this looking truly awesome on vinyl (the carrier for which this music was surely created). As for the music itself, well, what more is there to say? Carson Hill dig on a wide variety of bands, ranging from the doom-laden stoner rock of Sabbath and St Vitus through to the early-progressive sonic explorations of the invincible Floyd. Their meanderings are lengthy, true, but crucially they always take the listener along for the ride and the journey is always interesting. Carson Hill should probably come with a health warning regarding not listening and driving thanks to the inevitable contact high of listening, but that aside they come highly, highly recommended.