USX - _The Valley Path_
(Neurot Recordings, 2011)
by: Dan Lake (8 out of 10)
I abhor the "stoner metal" tag. Always have. I breathe at the brazier of expansive sonic sludge to let the intricate, convoluted guitar and drum patterns alter my brain chemistry by purely sonic means. The idea that I should have to inhale, imbibe, or inject some physical substance to enhance or fully achieve the effect seems like a cop out, a code for Lazy Music You'll Love When Lit. I crave noise-induced journeys to an inner cosmos where I can commune with my universal self; I don't spend money on sense-heightening music just so I can go out and spend more money on dope.

But, yeah, this is stoner metal. I tried not to believe it, tried not to write it, but with gradually layered themes blossoming through dogged repetition and semi-tuneful vocals slurring lines like "Move in the weeds on the habit of wind / Gather up the seeds and hold them in your hands", well... At some point denial tumbles toward the absurd. Add in the swaths of gnarled, spiraling vegetation featured in the lovely (though thin) album art, and this path's source and destination become clear through the haze.

With _The Valley Path_, though, USX make a strong case for hating the name but loving the game. Majestic themes sprout from earthy guitar melodies, nourished by nuanced percussion and sunned in the warmth and light of Meghan Mulhearn's subtle violin accompaniment. There are no look-at-me-ain't-I-special performances here. Instruments and their players serve the song, which, in the case of _The Valley Path_, may well have existed long before our australopithecine antecedents dusted off their knuckles and started packing scraped-out coconut shells full of that funny-tasting plant matter. The entire 39-minute, multi-part suite recalls a more organic, less intergalactic-space-monkey version of Old Man Gloom's "Zozobra", a familiarity that feels welcoming rather than stale. And when the introductory movement returns in the final third and leads into an unexpectedly triumphant coda, it turns out my third eye needs no priming after all.


(article published 23/7/2011)

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