As is the case with many stoner-slash-desert-slash-drone bands, Solar Halos draw inspiration from the multifarious landscapes around them. Even the name the North Carolina three-piece have adopted comes from a psychedelic optical illusion that occurs in nature when flares of sunlight refract through cloud (you might want to look that up, I’m no scientist).
It would normally be surprising to see how easily such location-centric music appeals en masse in places like the cold, crowded and cramped south of England if it wasn’t for the already penetrating success of this burgeoning genre over the last two decades. Much like the premium stoner and drone bands of yesteryear, Solar Halos paint such vivid and intoxicating pictures of their environment, it’s impossible not to get swept into their world.
Of course, their present home town of Chapel Hill is no red-skied Californian desert, but this doesn’t hinder the trio from drawing on nature’s expansive landscapes throughout all six sprawling tracks on this self-titled début.
The opening number sets out a mandate for what’s to come. Named ‘The Vast White Plains’, it is a hypnotic five and half minute riff that’s as heavy, cyclical and absorbing as anything from the near legendary Dopesmoker album released by Sleep some twenty years previous.
Slow and powerful, the band have already carved out a space for themselves by the time following tracks ‘Tunnels’ and ‘Migration’ come around. Vocals, led by guitarist Nora Rogers, wail out “sunrise / sunset” as her ghostly voice is a refreshing change from the cowboy slur that normally rings out from this genre. The rhythm section play no less of a role in these compositions as drummer John Crouch demonstrates his formidable prowess, rattling through his kit with endless fills whilst Eddie Sanchez‘s gorgeous, octavised bass drives the songs forward with wondrous consistency.
At twenty five minutes in, a new high is found with standout track ‘Frost’. This seven minute monster is wide awake, flicking its beastly tail from side to side as sparkling guitar riffs wade through a thickset bass and drum. The closing riff is huge on a galactic scale, defying science considering it is a mere trio who are hammering out such controlled chaos. Through the throbbing storm of these last moments, Crouch adds such perfectly placed cowbell that the stars themselves weep with joy.
‘Wilderness’ and ‘Resonance’ follow with predictable form as the band refuse to let quality slip for a second. A seemingly organic flow of drone spills over from one song to the next, yet every note is tight, every beat a well considered flick of paint on a Pollack masterpiece as new depths of distorted expression are plundered. The intro to ‘Resonance’ is an echoy drone that could be an entire sonic adventure of its own.
Solar Halos sound like a well versed and accomplished band five albums in. Their ability to manipulate sound is necromantic. It’s clear to hear that they pay heed to their past masters and use their significant individual musical experiences to create something unique. Stoner and drone are here to stay, but as the genre’s back catalog swells, it is only those who offer something special that will be remembered. This eponymous début is exactly that. A gleaming behemoth of achievement, fraught with drama, warm with fuzz, hypnotic with repetition. It’s an overwhelming gesture by the band and nothing short of a gift to everyone else.