Wo Fat – The Black Code (album) (Smallstone Records)

‘The Black Code’ is the fourth album from Texan rock / metal juggernaut Wo Fat. Featuring just 5 tracks, ‘The Black Code’ showcases the band’s epic, down tuned, southern fried, blues-infused psychedelic rock.

‘The Black Code’ is big on groove sharing most in common with Kyuss, Sleep, as well as Acid King and fellow label mates, Songs of Otis. Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top (particularly first track ‘Lost Highway’) influences can also be heard, while some of the riffs and grooves recall the now defunct and legendary Australian act Christbait (check out to  “Blow” and “Big Anus” from Christbait’s 1996 album ‘Dirtypunkmutha’).

One of the most appealing qualities about ‘The Black Code’ is how organic it sounds – no fancy overdubs or electronics here – just three dudes not just rocking out but telepathically exploring together during their frequent epic instrumental passages.

“Lost Highway” is the album opener and begins with a Kyuss meets ZZ Top style riff before drums and bass enter, and the stomp box switches to distortion, ensuing in an almighty groove. Of the five tracks, “Lost Highway” is the shortest at 5:45 and also the most straightforward and hooky. Here the trio combines their stoner-rock grooves with ZZ Top style songwriting smarts. Wait for the 4:00 mark when Wo Fat change gear and surge into a double time groove ala Kyuss and guitarist/vocalist Kent Stump lays down a mad guitar solo wailing until the song’s end. Vocally Stump exhibits traces of John Garcia of Kyuss but with a more Lemmy (Motorhead) meets Rob Zombie guttural sound.

The title track follows with odd guitar bends and floor-tom pounds before a massive and grindingly slow, fuzzed out riff is introduced. The pace picks up and a solid groove takes form from 2:30 at which point a simple but catchy vocal also creeps in. During the first half of the song, we find more structure with the trio exchanging rocked out verses with half-time grooves for the chorus. From 5:00 onwards however the song steers in an instrumental section introducing a psychedelic element including bad-ass blues driven guitar solo.

“Hurt At Gone” begins with a southern-fried slide guitar intro, all distorted and fuzzed out. Guitar chords ring out during the verses while backed steadily by a drum shuffle on the toms. At 2:00 the beat changes to a more straight forward groove with cascading cymbals while a slide guitar takes the place of any vocal chorus. Certainly the most blues driven track on the album, “Hurt At Gone” is fluid, grooving along effortlessly.

As mentioned above, the album features its fair share of epic instrumental and likely improvised passages no more evident than the first six minutes of “The Shard of Leng”.  At 12:36, “The Shard of Leng” is the longest track on the album and doesn’t get going until right on the 6:00 mark where the band lock into a thick riff-heavy groove (and a Rage Against The Machine style groove at that) before vocals finally enter at 6:30.

When the final track “Sleep of The Black Lotus” finds its feet at 1:40, the song follows a traditional verse/chorus arrangement and employs more of the ZZ Top songwriting. Just as you think the song ends, a fat doom section emerges where the band spend the next four minutes with Tim Wilson (bass) and Michael Walter (drums) bolstering together a solid stoner groove while allowing guitar solos to wail.

Unfortunately with large slabs of instrumental sections, only a singular down-tuned guitar in their arsenal, and with the absence of any major hooks except for “Lost Highway” and “Sleep of The Black Lotus”, during the first couple of spins a lot of the material runs the risk of being indistinguishable and missing that certain spark.  The album is at its best when melody and songwriting smarts are incorporated into the tunes.

Kyuss and Sleep fans take note;  ‘The Black Code’ is a worthy addition to your collection.

Be sure to check out the band’s website, which features a sci-fi motif complete with alternate dimensions, cyber-visions, and alien sightings – all done in the style of a b-grade horror movie.

‘The Black Code’ is available digitally and on CD from 13 November, 2012.

Listen to “Lost Highway” below: