Riffs from the Underground
It’s difficult to say whether a collection of songs, or even an individual song, is best when the message is couched in metaphor and word play, or when it’s laid bare in its purest, most authentic way. Is it better to be raw and earnest, or indirectly prosthelytizing? Or even simply poetic for poetry’s sake? When the music in question is co-written with a musician like Scott “Wino” Weinrich, it’s a good bet that raw truth is the order of the day. Wino, as he is known in doom metal circles, is of course only one half of the partnership that has produced the album, Freedom Conspiracy, the other half being German folk musician Conny Ochs. But it’s Wino who brings the wisdom and angst of a committed and aging rocker to the proceedings.
Wino and Ochs have been playing together for several years now, having released their first album Heavy Kingdom back in 2012. Their partnership began when Wino met Ochs on a European tour. They had a meeting of the minds that included a mutual love for Townes Van Zandt, the least likely musician to influence a doom metal icon. But then again, it becomes clear that what motivates these two is a sense of purpose, of being at odds with the world, that transcends musical genres. And you can hear that in this latest record in its combination of songs based off of classic metal riffs played on various combinations of acoustic and electric guitars, and its more melodic, exclusively acoustic fare.
Wino has been toiling in the rock underground for decades and likely has more stories than he tells. He experienced the heights of Led Zeppelin back in 1975, along with Black Sabbath. He’s worked on many many different projects, including most notably the doom metal band, Saint Vitus, which made him a legend of the underground. Now in his 50s, Wino’s a true disciple of rock, going through all the trials that rock disciples go through, only perhaps more painfully. Just a few years ago he was arrested for meth possession in Norway, an incident he was highly apologetic for to fans. Incidents like these have made their way into his work with Ochs. The song “Crystal Madonna” addresses the grip that a drug like meth can hold when Wino and Ochs sing, “Through the night’s torment, comfort she brings.”
But this is not a navel-gazing record. Wino himself has expressed his outright revulsion at the state of the world, and he’s out to express this on the record. Following a scathing indictment of politicians, the Big Brother state, and other modern ills. On Germany’s Exile on Mainstream Records website, Wino states, “We hope the songs will inspire and uplift, hopefully unite our searching spirits.” Likewise Ochs says, “This album is about losing and finding belief. And fighting for it.” These sentiments emerge in songs like “Drain” and more notably “Foundation Chaos,” which is about the negative things built around us in the name of security. In “Drain,” they bluntly state, “Can’t outrun the winds of change.”
Wino is technically a great guitar player and accomplishes a lot even in his solo work, but partnering with Ochs sometimes lends the music a softer edge, giving them more angles to work with. “Shards” exemplifies their pairing with its acoustic opening shift to low end acoustic and electric guitar riffs. Meanwhile, the title track “Freedom Conspiracy” opens with a beautiful, melodic acoustic riff that gives way to electric guitar and drums and features some of the best harmonies of the record. “Cast aside these tools of hatred,” Wino and Ochs implore.
The record is rough around the edges in that not all the harmonies are spot on. The recording also has a strongly unproduced quality that may fit an icon of doom rock, but at the same time does not allow room for the record to emerge from the underground. The record never fully escapes the feel of a collection put out by two young rock lovers, starry-eyed at the lifestyle and the riffs of those who have come before. It’s a record from committed rock disciples, with an honest anti-establishment tone. But perhaps that’s the point.