Upcdownc have worn many hats in their long career. But I did not expect an album like this – a nearly pure Stoner Rock throwback to a time three decades past now (wow!). A time when the genre was flourishing. A time when albums like Welcome to Sky Valley were blowing minds and destabilizing Alt- and Pop-Rock’s stranglehold on the airwaves, poised on the imminent pyre of Grunge and the dubious artistry of what was to come.
On Duel, the UK duo are pushing the style back into the limelight. The question is, is this still a relevant genre, and have they done enough to distinguish their efforts from all those that came before. The answer to both is a resounding yes, I would argue. A quick look back into the catalogue of, say, King Buffalo or Elder, would reveal that the genre is quietly thriving. Similarly, bands like Sleep are still active, Electric Wizard returned just a few short years ago with the excellent Wizard Bloody Wizard and obviously Queens Of The Stone Age have carried the Desert Rock torch since the latter’s untimely dissolution. Undoubtedly, Upcdownc have refreshed the genre with their own approach and have upped the ante on that old subgenre with Post-Metal’s heavy, sludgy, aggressive nuance. They’ve done it with the benefits of modern recording and it sounds great.
The album is not lacking in tonal repose amongst the grungy metal chords. On a track like ”Miasma” they dip into their roots and offer a study in sludge and noise. On “Exhaler” they again offer counterpoint with a classical guitar lead punctuated by dissonant keys to start, before the overdrive takes hold again. There are quite a few of these moments that help to suggest the dual nature of the album is indeed a duel of clashing and complementary styles. And there is no doubt of its effectiveness. Even an oldhead like myself can find plenty of nostalgic noise to shake a stick at.
Whether or not you feel Stoner Rock is still relevant to you in 2023, Upcdownc makes it clear that the genre is still worth drawing inspiration from. Even so, there are a few moments on the album where the crunchy down-beat groove feels long in the tooth. It is the nature of all good things to be spoiled by overindulgence. Such is the case with much of the genre and such is the case on cuts like ”Lungs of Dust,” coming in with the longest runtime on the album and grinding a Sleep-like psychedelic groove down to the nubbins. However, I do enjoy it when their signature overdriven guitar licks come together with the stellar clean bass lines on the second half of the track. And at the same time you have other instances effectively putting the stoner element in service to the band’s own brand of abstract, psychedelic noise, coming up with an even more satisfying iteration of either one, alone.
I’ll be the first to place 2020’s Score way up in their discography, but there is something so compelling and nostalgic about listening to an album like Duel, even though it doesn’t quite fit in to the rest of the discography, or maybe it had to go there eventually, Upcdownc being a pretty enterprising group. I like the sound of the album in that it doesn’t simply rehash an old genre but riffs off of it to fuel their core sound – which is already pretty sludgy and psychedelic. So all in all a really pleasant entry with Duel, you can call me a fan.