Forget Francis; Saint James Is In the House
The common thread across most psychedelic metal bands is the presence of long, droning, self-indulgent songs that are best enjoyed live and under the influence. Rarely does a band make an album of short, well-crafted, yet still stoner-friendly tunes, but that’s just what the Austin, Texas five-piece, The Saint James Society, has done on its debut LP, Bab(a/y)lon Rising. Infusing a healthy dose of garage-rock fuzz, this is an album that has the power to introduce newcomers to a muddied and under-appreciated sub-genre of hard rock.
The first song on Rising, “Refractions,” begins with promising feedback, giving way to a steady beat and a supportive sustained guitar riff before bassist/vocalist Brandon Burkart’s smooth and authoritative vocals come in. The percussion is handled by the “the Saint James Rebel Queen Alliance” of Elza Berkart and Candice Bertalan, and sounds just a hair out of sync, but deliberately so, as does their twin-backing vocals, as heard on the title track and “Blood & Sand.” Brandon’s voice has a touch of ’80s hair metal, and the band describes their sound as “Pentecostal desert glam.” That description is a bit of a disservice: the sound is way dirtier than anything that could be mistaken for glam. There are elements of Mudhoney, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Souxsie and the Banshees in The Saint James Society, and it all fits together nicely.
Not every song is a masterpiece. Some of the songs start off on a mid-level dynamic and don’t go up or down in any noticeable way. “The Book of the Jaguar Priest” is one such number, but it ends before it’s too bothersome. And if you need some pointless psychedelic droning, you will find it in “Celestial Symbols Interpreted.” The last song, “House of Snakes,” features Elza Berkart on lead vocals, orating in her native French above the trippiest music on Rising. Her voice is reminiscent of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, and as strong as Brandon’s voice is, the album could have benefited from more of Elza. Rising is a step forward from their 2012 EP, Pray for Us, which was enough to garner buzz at last year’s SXSW. Expect to hear more about The Saint James Society as reviewers list their favorites from this year’s festival; this band is one to watch.