Reviews SpiritWorld Pagan Rhythms

SpiritWorld

Pagan Rhythms

Remind me to kick myself for sleeping on this album, but in my defense, its description as a combination of hardcore and country presents two genres that don’t exactly have a Venn diagram of overlap. SpiritWorld is the solo project and brainchild of Stu Folsom, whose namesake Las Vegas hardcore band Folsom built the foundation of the LVHC scene in the early 2000s. Folsom is to Las Vegas as Hoods are to Sacramento, both in their blending of hardcore and metal and their integral contributions to forming their respective local scenes -- not a stretch when you consider the cover art for Folsom’s If You’re a Viper EP is almost a dead ringer for Hoods The King Is Dead. But SpiritWorld ends up being drastically different than your average side project.

Stu Folsom first showed fans his SpiritWorld project on the 2017 Demo, which boasts more of a gruff pop-punk sound, even leaning towards melodic hardcore like Make Do And Mend. I’ll admit that I lack the country music knowledge to speak on how much of that influence is present in his early approach, but it becomes obvious once you get to “Naked City Saturday Night,” a song that candidly made me cringe a bit. The styles and ethos of the two styles just feel incompatible for me. But alongside promotional material for his debut full-length Pagan Rhythms, Stu explains his creative approach: “I focus all my anxiety and despair into art and hope that I can bring a little respite to someone else lost out in the dark, even if it is only for a few moments.” That’s a sentiment I can fully support, so I’ll keep an open mind.

It’s unclear where the country influence has gone into hiding, but this record is straight-up brutal intensity, Integrity meets Slayer in all the right ways. The approach is fatalistic aggression with a hefty dose of satanism, and easily brings to mind Kerry King with the whammy-bar solos. Their sound is immensely powerful, full of crunchy guitars and deep snare hits; you can feel the energy of mid-90s hardcore bands like Ringworm. I can’t tell if there is a touch of Leeway or I just want them to cover “Mark of the Squealer.” Stu has enlisted some incredibly talented musicians to help him fill out the roster, including drummer extraordinaire Thomas Pridgen, who rose to fame with The Mars Volta over a decade ago and most recently returned to Trash Talk for their recent EP Squalor; see the impeccable blast beat drums on “Unholy Passages.”

Lyrics range from the dismal and misanthropic -- “an ancient doom from hell will rise / an ancient doom, mankind's demise” -- to the blatantly diabolic on “Night Terrors”: “witness the end of the world through hate filled eyes / annihilate the cross, fuck your Christ.” He stands out with the more sinister Western storylines, like this show-stopper on “Armageddon Honkytonk & Saloon”: “I made her watch while I cut off his manhood, rolled a smoke and made him eat it alive / flipped her two bits and stepped in the night, they never should have left me alive.” You can certainly draw slight comparisons to Folsom, but this is clearly a different beast. That’s even more evident when we’re hit with the southwestern interlude at the end of “The Demon Storm,” equipped with the mariachi gritos, that fades off while the sample is slowly downtuned. This could be the perfect record for your metalhead friend who never really liked hardcore, but it also has enough touches of mid-2000s crossover bands to appeal to both sides.

Nine songs is the perfect length for this project; Pagan Rhythms doesn’t feel too drawn out and SpiritWorld really impressed me with their execution and ferocity. I would imagine this is timely in the hardcore scene since there are a lot of bands leaning toward this beatdown metal crossover sound nowadays. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking at hand on the surface, but there are a lot of nuances lying underneath and its performances and production are sharp. This record is releasing alongside a set of short stories à la Cormac McCarthy titled Godlessness, which I hope to get my hands on when the vinyl version releases, because that couldn’t be more up my alley.

7.4 / 10Campbell
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7.4 / 10

7.4 / 10

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