We are surrounded these days by so much new music, perhaps in part an unforeseen by-product of lockdown days and an abundance of pandemic-provoked anxieties. Much of it is very good, even when the artists aren’t pushing boundaries, or maybe only nudging them a bit, like an elbow bump.
But every now and then we hear something that really makes us sit up straight and take notice, something that pulls together different stylistic ingredients in unexpected ways that shove through boundaries. And when that’s done by people who are unusually gifted instrumental performers but who also bring undeniable emotional power to their song-writing, well then it’s almost like a lightning strike through the top of your head.
And that brings us to North Carolina-based Stone Healer, whose new album Conquistador is all of those things and more.
Many of you will have great memories (as I do) of the now-defunct progressive black metal band Autolatry. Stone Healer rose from the ashes of that group because it’s composed of ex-Autolatry members Dave (guitar, bass, vocals) and Matt Kaminsky (drums). And while they formed Stone Healer as a continuation of Autolatry, it’s abundantly evident that they have branched out in new directions. And as good as Stone Healer‘s 2015 debut EP was (He Who Rides Immolated Horses), Conquistador is still a big step up. As proof of that, we bring you the premiere stream of an album track named “Whence Shall I“.
The song is a display of torment and turmoil that features intricate and eye-popping instrumental performances, all of them immaculately plotted, tightly interwoven, and impressively dextrous despite the electrifying propulsion of the song and the overarching sense of chaos and despair that it generates.
The layered guitars, which deploy shrill dissonance in effective doses, are feverishly jittery, darting, and blaring. Coupled with the fast-changing drumwork, jolting bass lines, and the gritty, scorching vocals, they create an immediate feeling of distraught frenzy. The riveting guitar solo that appears early in the song only underscores those feelings, while adding further fuel to the music’s ferocious energy.
The drum performance is a lights-out escapade all the way through the track, but always comes back to the song’s core rhythms, syncing with the heavyweight bass grooves to keep the listener moving with them. But the changing guitar performances are every bit as gripping, and prove to be emotional powerhouses as they squall and scream, flicker and wail. The vocals are also remarkably intense, in keeping with the explosiveness of the music. The band add even more textures and accents when clean vocal harmonies briefly appear, and when the music segues into a somewhat more subdued proggy sequence.
The entire experience is so ambitious and so fascinating that it becomes spellbinding, not in the sense of something that lulls you, but in the sense that it provokes a reflexive and single-minded focus on what’s happening, a complete immersion in the music’s manifold maneuvers and moods.
Dave Kaminsky told us this about the song:
“‘Whence Shall I’ was one of the earliest songs written for Conquistador, actually dating back to the days of our old band Autolatry. Matt originally wrote the lyrics as a poetic ode to the labor of farm work, expressing a gratitude for the physical sensations felt by tending to the land day in and day out. As our old band disintegrated and I continued to evolve as a musician and songwriter myself, so too did this song to the point that it hardly resembles the shape of my original inspiration. When piecing together Conquistador I wanted each song to flow from delicate and ornate to heavy and enveloping. ‘Whence Shall I’ features the most straightforward song structure and the most unambiguously technical heaviness on the album, and I think it acts as a bridge from my oldest sources of inspiration to my most recent.”
With respect to the album as a whole, we’ll share this further comment from Dave:
“Conquistador is a cathartic retelling of my own spiritual extortion, in which the themes of allowance, forgiveness, letting go, and mistaken divinity play central roles. The Conquistador, as depicted by artist Leo Ulfelder, is a representation of egotistical arrogance, the illusion of invincibility, and self-appointed divinity in the same way that conquistadors during the Age Of Discovery believed themselves to be ordained by God throughout their terrorization of newfound worlds.
“Musically, Conquistador is a textured journey through the sonic elements that comprise my love for music. Soul-driven acoustic guitars which bear the weight of my whole being give way to dueling electric melodies, who provide the wind for powerful sung vocals and screams of anguish, which rest on top of the bedrock of a focused, breathing drum performance. This music is born from the chemistry between my brother and I; organic percussion that exhales passion with every blast beat and soul with every groove, combined with a furious counterpoint guitar attack creating an onslaught of melody.”
Conquistador is set for release on April 30th, and it comes recommended for fans of bands who have inspired the project, which include Ulcerate, Krallice, Helheim, Dodheimsgard, Paradise Lost, Kvelertak, and Alice In Chains.
It’s available for pre-order now, and below you will also have a chance to stream the previously released single “Into the Spoke of Night”