It’s hardly surprising that Frank Herbert, author of the acclaimed Dune saga, was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. An entire science fiction series based on a world devoid of rain? It could only be the work of another Puget Sound artist lashing out at the region’s chronic grey skies. The same geographical contempt applies to a band whose namesake stems from one of Herbert’s creations. You don’t need to know your sci-fi references to appreciate Seattle’s behemoth power trio Sandrider, you only need to know that their sound perfectly suits the tone of Herbert’s novels—epic, triumphant, and, ultimately, unabashedly entertaining. And considering the long-standing cliche that Washington State’s lineage of heavy bands stems from the perpetual gloom of our weather, Sandrider’s music and namesake seems all the more proper. Were bands like Nirvana, Melvins, Karp, and Soundgarden a product of the environment, a reaction to the cabin fever brought on by black clouds? Whatever the impetus was for those classic records, Sandrider seems to have found a similar muse.
If not the rain, restlessness and angst were certainly primary factors leading to Sandrider’s creation. Guitarist/vocalist Jon Weisnewski and drummer Nat Damm were already bashing out riffs in cult heavyweights Akimbo while bassist Jesse Roberts was adding the low-end lurch to local prog-punk staples The Ruby Doe and the backing band to punk legend Kid Congo Powers. Sandrider was little more than a side project, but with the pedigree involved, the Pacific Northwest’s heavy music community were instantly intrigued. And for good reason—Sandrider’s debut album was a beast. Weisnewski’s riffs managed to combine classic rock panache, sludge metal heft, and ‘90s artcore urgency. His vocals were an anthemic roar. Damm pounded like Bonham and blazed like Moon. Roberts swung between the ruthless economy of Bob Weston’s aluminum-necked precision in Shellac and the snake-like bass leads of Nomeansno’s Rob Wright. Despite a near three-year lag between the recording and the release of their eponymous debut, Sandrider gained a reputation as one of the Northwest’s most crucial live acts.
For their sophomore album, Godhead, Sandrider once again enlisted producer/engineer Matt Bayles (ISIS, Mastodon, The Sword, Tragedy) to helm the recording process. But things have changed since the creation of their debut. Specifically, Akimbo amicably broke up, putting Sandrider as a central musical focus for its members. The added attention, in addition to the four-year gestation period for the new material, has yielded an even more distilled and potent formula. Right from the get-go, the malevolent call-to-arms and “We Will Rock You” kick-and-snare stomp of opening track “Ruiner” let’s the listener know Godhead is geared towards ferocious hooks and unrepentant rock n’ roll worship. From there, “Castle” trades off between the tightly wound rhythm section-propelled verses of Jesus Lizard and the single-coil bombasts of Drive Like Jehu, all while maintaining their signature bottom-end roar. “Gorgon” finds the band flexing their classic-rock chops through the filter of their beefed-up gear, much as Melvins did on Stoner Witch or Harvey Milk pulled off on The Pleaser. Title track “Godhead” is their magnum opus, a dynamic 7-minute exploration of tension and release, with a throat-shredding payoff proving Weisnewski can hit notes that fellow melodic sludge bands like Baroness and Torche can only dream of. And unlike so many of their peers, Sandrider doesn’t relent in the latter half of their album. The straight-forward charge of “Champions”, the shout-along chorus of “Scalpel”, and the snarling swagger of “Beast” help propel the album through the climactic finale of “Traveler”.
Things move at a different pace in the damp cold of the Northwest. Maybe that’s why Black Flag’s My War-era went over so well in Seattle while the rest of the country were agitated by its menacing crawl. Maybe that’s why the mid-tempo weight of grunge eclipsed Californian thrash metal in the early ‘90s. And if it seems that Puget Sound lethargy has yielded too much sad-sucker folk-rock and indie-twee in recent years, let Sandrider remind you of Washington’s long history of crushing thunderhead riffs.