Comets on Fire: Avatar

Comets on Fire
Sub Pop

Starting about five years back, if you wanted to hear hellish, paint-peeling squalls of dementia disguised as people playing distorted guitars really loud, then Santa Cruz's Comets on Fire were a hell of a go-to. Their first three albums are what Hawkwind would've resembled if they were hell-bent to Lemmy's liking: Ayler-tinted free-jazz sax freak-outs, overdriven bass, lots of woop-woop-fweee-whirrrr gutter-Moog convulsions, and Ethan Miller's unholy wail belting out garbled threats that sounded like the Tasmanian Devil reciting Lovecraft. Only crazier.

Avatar, however, isn't as easily used to scare children or summon assorted undead. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise; there's a precedent for this record's less corrosive sound in "Pussy-Footin' the Duke," the proggy, Sun Ra-meets-Television track from 2004's Blue Cathedral. But it was a diversion on their last album—here it's the rule, with the three-minute "Holy Teeth" being the sole oasis of terse, rampaging velocity on a subtler, more intricate record. Miller's voice rarely rises into his previous full-bore yowl, and dialed down a notch or two, he kind of sounds like a less pompous version of Chris Cornell circa Screaming Life. While they used to play as though any space between noises would mean instant crash and burn, there's more sprawl on this album, with plenty of room for the piano-driven burnout waltzes ("Lucifer's Memory"), Arkestral immigrant songs ("Sour Smoke"), and Mott-the-Hooplish slow-dive glam ballads ("Hatched Upon the Age") to slowly warp into complex meditations. It's still raucous at times, and there's plenty of propulsion to go around, but retreating from the outer limits of noise hasn't hurt them a bit.