02. Thick as Thieves
05. Deliver Us/Deliverance
06. No Man's Land
07. Wild Stallion
08. Seduction of Slumber
2009 At A Loss Recordings
Raise the Red Lantern definitely fits the part of one of the metal world's best kept secrets. Their 2005 debut record, Breathe Fire, helped set the early standard for exceptional metal releases from Seventh Rule Recordings by mixing highly catchy songwriting with thick sludge tones, yet it still flew under the radar of many listeners. But the range of influence of the dudes in RTRL is more widespread than you might think, thanks to the fact that three of the four members are responsible for the building of the Emperor cabs that (seemingly) everyone from Trap Them and Pelican to Young Widows and Minsk have added to their sonic arsenal these days. So go ahead and place these guys in the small group of musician-engineers (ex-Harkonen's/Helms Alee's Ben Verellen is another great example) that are responsible for a specific sound on more than just the songwriting level. I love and respect that more than I could possibly explain in a mere sentence or two.
As for their second, self-titled full-length, sludge listeners can expect more of the same great elements that made Breathe Fire such a kick ass record. Burly low-end riffs are driven with powerful but not showy drumming. The melodic guitar leads are as warm as can be (check out the phenomenal second half dirge of "Ritual" where the guitarists engage in a hypnotic tapping battle over an evolving bass groove). And the vocals are a perfect fit, as they range from coarse, layered screams to a throaty melodic yell a la Kylesa (see "Awaken"). Some High on Fire comparisons are definitely called for, but at the end of the day, it's closest to what Baroness would sound like if they stuck to their grittier origins on First and Second. Think of RTRL as their unattractive peer whom everyone forgot about (or failed to even learn about in the first place).
There isn't much to complain about here. If you dig riffs, towering guitar and bass stacks with exceptional tube distortion, and a no frills aesthetic, this record is for you. If you stack it up against Breathe Fire, there are a few shortcomings (the drawn out bass solo track, "Deliver Us/Deliverance" that could have benefited from an added dimension is the best example), but this is still an album that will have a 100% success rate with its intended audience. If you find yourself staring at the Emperor cabs of all of your favorite bands, yet you haven't picked up a RTRL record, you should realize that you are the intended audience. Do yourself a favor and grab this.
On a concluding note, kudos to At a Loss Recordings for continuing to release some top notch records that are as heavy as they are intelligent. I can't remember the last time I thought a press release was well-written or helpful, but the final bullet point on the sheet for this release says it all:
"Our label constantly puts out releases by bands you dig! You just wait till they go to another label -- Black Cobra, 16, Baroness, Minsk, Rwake, Kylesa, etc -- maybe get on board early!"
Well put, At a Loss. Well put.
Bottom Line: If you like sludge metal with melodic guitar licks (i.e. the product of bands like Baroness, High on Fire, and Kylesa), Raise the Red Lantern's self-titled record is for you. Cheers to these dudes not just for writing another collection of stellar distortion-soaked tunes, but for arming a significant chunk of the music scene with the sonic weapons to do even more damage. I support everything about this band.