Oxxen, a Tennessean doom/sludge trio, sounds like the Chattanooga Choo Choo has derailed at the stroke of midnight and plowed through forests filled with man-eating black bears and haunted oak trees, leaving behind a wreckage of splintered wooden limbs, bones, and fur. While the band’s name reminds me of ill-fated computer expeditions along the Oregon Trail (I always had at least two oxen drown when I chose to ford a river), the music evokes everything from the hardest-partying stoner rock to the murkiest grunge in Seattle’s days of pre-exploitation.
Their self-titled EP kicks off with “This Shit Ain’t Exactly Thunderdome.” This shit is, however, heavy enough to give Tony Iommi a boner from a continent away. When the distortion hits it can collapse weak hearts, and there’s a punk energy in this music that spits blood and teeth into the crowd. When the songs reach mid-to-uptempo they feel like they’d be right at home playing with Black Tusk, Red Fang, or Orange Goblin. (Editor’s note: Just checked the band’s gig history and it looks like they have played, or will play, with Black Tusk. Solid.)
“Stoic Men Under Ancient Lord” swaggers with reckless grunge intensity, taking the heaviest moments of Nirvana’s Bleach and the Melvins’ Houdini and dressing them up with armor and a battle axe. It features Bill Robinson's best lead guitar work on the album, whose voice sounds how I’d imagine Kurt Cobain would sound if he was still alive. The same hoarse shout, tone deepened from years of drinking cocaine and snorting whiskey, only occasionally concerned with weak shit like pitch and melody.
Oxxen close with the album’s highlight, the 10+ minute “Riddle of Steel.” This song revs its engines as loudly as the best biker metal out there before slowing to a Cathedral crawl until the seventh minute, where they return to the punk riffing and gruff aggression that propelled the EP’s opener. Oxxen’s roots may reach into traditional doom and the spirit of Sabbath and Pentagram, but there is a fist-pumping, binge-drinking sense of immediacy and toughness to this release that gives me the hunch these dudes are a totally killer live band. Just because you can flatten a forest with your slowest riffs doesn’t mean you can’t chop the keg open with an axe and party sometimes.
This EP is currently FREE on Bandcamp, so check it out and throw them some bones if you enjoy it as much as I do: http://oxxen.bandcamp.com/album/oxxen
And follow them on Facebook for future news on gigs and merch: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Oxxen