Out of the Garage…and into the Fi-yah!
“You know what would be great? More Ty Segall. I feel like Ty Segall isn’t present enough in the current alternative music scene. Why doesn’t that guy make more records? I don’t think he makes enough records. We don’t have enough musicians that sound like Ty Segall. I wish Ty Segall were more prolific. Have you heard the new Ty Segall record? No not that one, the one that came out two days ago to make a total of three this year.”
For Ty Segall to enjoy his current level popularity and prominence, there has to be someone who earnestly believes something to that effect. A legion of diehard, balls to the wall Ty Segall fans has to exist somewhere for this unassuming hippie to be able to subsist on his musical career alone, and that’s a strange thought. The musician of the moment first formed Fuzz in 2011. A side project in which Segall swaps the alternative rock palette for one of sludgy, Sabbathian blues metal, 2015’s II is the second record in which Segall takes a backseat behind the drum kit… except not really, because he’s also the lead singer and clearly at the position of creative control. Fine, but the real question is whether or not this retroist garage rock hipster is just putting on a metal hat for the sake of his little vanity project, or whether or not he can truly bring the doom that his group’s imagery purports.
The answer, as always, is complicated. Segall refines his nasally indie squawk into something more operatic and wavery, purposefully putting on a wailing, exaggerated Ozzy Osbourne impression. As silly as this choice seems, mocking Segall’s overacted prince of darkness imitation would, by proximity, slight some of the greatest metal bands of the Common Era. Electric Wizard and Acid King have been at this shit for so long that they solidified their own derivative subgenre. The tracks of II all have protometal, psychedelic, stonery titles like “Time Collapse/The 7th Terror,” which sounds like a seven-minute amalgamation of every song on Black Sabbath’s IV, right down to the resonance of Fuzz’s amplifier tubes, to Geezer Butler’s wah-drenched bass guitar tone, to the way the hi-hat on the tambourine is mic’d just slightly too loud.
This area is where Ty shines: a brilliant engineer, Segall knows exactly how to mic and record each rock instrument in the authentic style of late-60’s blues rock. With his expert knob twiddling, he turns the studio space into his own personal time machine. But rather than play with this ability in an innovative way, Fuzz choose to recreate something that already exists in spades. Fuzz even apes Geezer and Ozzy’s lyrical leanings as well, oscillating between the overwhelmingly fantastical, the contemporary existentialism of ‘Killing Yourself to Live” in “Rat Race” and, of course, psychedelic drug experiences in “Pipe.”
Like the backlog of filler Sabbath tracks, most Fuzz songs songs are composed of catchy yet evil-sounding riffs, sutured together with some half-baked mystical nonsense laid over the top of it all. The only thing that distinguishes many of the songs from one another is unorthodox noodling that precedes the main riff du jour. “Bringer of Light” begins with a lick that worships Blue Cheer and Mountain and Foghat over St. Vitus, but it’s a direct bait and switch that gives way to another plodding, crash cymbal-laden mammoth of a riff. “Burning Wreath” momentarily lingers on “Orchid” or “Fluff”-esque delicate minor key fingerpicking, while the aggressive “Pollinate” rings out like a lost Soundgarden riff until the spooky, reverb-soaked vocals creep back in. Occasionally guitarist Charles Mootheart will kick on an octave or chorus pedal, but the guitar tone of II is mostly uniform. “Pipe” sounds a bit more lucid and hard-hitting despite its relaxant subject matter. Fuzz must have taken a few hits from the bong before hitting record on this one – it’s a tiny low-end adjustment away from sounding like a cut from Sleep’s early material.
There are changes of pace, but none that are actually meaningful. The ninety-second, hardcore-influenced “Red Flag” is gone in a flash, and sounds vaguely like The Dickies. “Let It Live” touts an uplifting garage rock lurch rather than a foreboding sense of doom more typically ascribed to the sludge metal that Fuzz painstakingly recreates. The gang can switch tempos on a dime as well, but usually employ the same technique of the gradually slowing snare fill, which begins to lose impact somewhere in the midst of track three.
Here’s what’s confounding: Ty Segall actually exhibits the same problem of which Tony Iommi famously accused Ozzy in Steven Rosen’s Sabbath biography The Wheels of Confusion: “Dio would sing across the riff, whereas Ozzy would follow the riff, like in “Iron Man.” Now, regardless of what you think about Dio-era Sabbath or the admittedly unfair, asshole-ish perfectionism of Sabbath’s axman, that’s a valid point. Ozzy had no real sense of counter melody back in the day, and it occasionally made for uninteresting song. But that’s the style that fans and aspiring musicians grabbed on to, and the one which they most frequently attempt to emulate. When the guy who invented the shit you’re scrambling to imitate draws distinct focus to the weak point of the genre he founded, it’s probably a criticism that’s worth addressing. In Fuzz, Ty and the boys just do Sabbath, warts and all. Which is fine.
So the issue isn’t hipster posers making false metal: Fuzz have written some heavy towering riffs with real pull. In fact, a failed attempt at garage-ified doom metal gone awry would almost be better; at least there would be a personal, lo-fi spin on the tried and true blues metal formula. But instead we’re left with a product with which the market is already flooded, and more aptly explored by bands like Blood Ceremony, Graveyard, Pallbearer, Bongzilla, Melvins, Sleep, Eyehategod, Spirit Caravan, Kyuss, Pilgrim, and The Sword and Uncle Acid. Hell, even Wolfmother take their riffage in a direction, albeit a shitty, poppy, overproduced one.