How many female-fronted stoner rock bands are gonna pour out of L.A. and San Fran before we finally say enough is enough? It’s like hair metal bands in the ’80s and garage revival trios in the early 2000s — the tide just won’t be stemmed. Ides of Gemini have quite a few tried-and-true ingredients swirling about in the witches’ cauldron of their latest LP: Mercyful Fate’s trademark wailing and overdriven guitar tone, an affinity for occult-ish iconography without ever wading to deep into the Satan pool, and, of course, all the low-gain, blues’d-out riffage that comes from a steady Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer diet. This is all helmed by a frontwoman with a set of pipes to stand alongside Siouxsie Sioux and Starship-era Grace Slick. And while that combination might sound like the cat’s pajamas, listeners might be fighting some serious deja vu two minutes into “Mother Kiev,” the opening track of 2017’s Women.
It’s not just the omnipresent influence of the old guard like Vitus and Sabbath that will leave one with the feeling that he or she may have heard this all before, but also Ides’ uncanny similarity to other contemporary female-fronted sludge groups like Blood Ceremony, Acid King and Jex Thoth, to name a few. They all boast the same spooky baritone vocals, waxing esoterically about candle-lit invocations, ravens and mystical astrology to the point of being indistinguishable from one another. And there’s a palpable lack of new ideas on display — “Swandiver” milks the “evil,” flatted fifth hammer-on that’s been the cornerstone of metal since the late ’60s as if it’s the hot new thing; and Ides’ experimentation with the breathy falsetto of ’80s pop in “The Dancer” ends up sounding like the inexplicably popular Canadian group Ghost, only somehow even more like a haunted house-themed carnival ride.
The crux of the problem is that, despite all the grim darkness contained in Women, there’s no crunch, no aggression, no edge. Without actual heaviness, all the retro, pentatonic stoner riffs in the world are bound to have minimal lasting impact on anyone who’s been listening to metal for more than six months. There’s precious little reprieve from the lethargy — though the slight change in texture with mournful acoustic jangling that dots “Heroine’s Descent” is certainly refreshing, if only because it’ll remind listeners of Agalloch’s Of Stone, Wind and Pillor.
In short, Ides of Gemini’s latest offering is fatiguing in its uniform, tom drum-dominated pace. What’s infuriating is how narrowly the obviously talented group miss the mark of greatness, landing just shy of so many other bands who have taken the extra step into the realm of adventurous song structure. With some more guitar crunch and kinetic ferocity, Ides could have rivaled High on Fire. With some more focus on catchier songwriting they could have easily matched Fu Manchu and Kyuss. Hell, even gearing the production a bit more heavily toward doom-y atmospherics would have given them some individuality, like Bongripper and/or Bongzilla. Well, glass houses and all, but the point remains.
As it stands, Ides of Gemini just kind of exist rather than rock. On top of all of that, they close out the record with a bongwater-soaked cover of Jon Bon Jovi’s (the guy, not the band) “Queen of New Orleans.” Fantastic. Don’t sweat it guys, we’ll keep an ear out for the next one.