Artist: Ojo Malo
Album: Black Light Fever Tripping
Release Date: July 7, 2023
Location: El Paso, Texas
West Texan Mayans/Aztec inspired stoner/sludge/hard rock act Ojo Malo come out of the gates swinging with their debut Black Light Fever Tripping. This is a gruff, gritty, groove laden offering that holds the listener’s attention from start to finish. The band aren’t reinventing the wheel, as their sound feels very familiar, but not every album has to. This is an example of a band that very clearly loves this style of music and focuses on doing it extremely well and I will always have an appreciation for music of this nature.
I’m not going to lie, I initially listened to this album solely due to the album art, which I have to say is absolutely awesome and completely unique. Then I heard the music, and I was glad that I had been drawn in, otherwise I would have missed one of my favourite stoner/sludge/hard rock albums of 2023. If I had to simplify the band’s sound, I would describe it as Life of Agony meets High on Fire meets Crowbar meets Motörhead and again that’s an oversimplification, but it should pique the interest of many a stoner/sludge fan. There’s a perfect balance struck between the heavier, gruffer and groovier elements of each of these acts which makes Black Light Fever Tripping a genuinely fun and enjoyable listen and allows for repeat listens without any risk of boredom.
I would have to say that the album is definitely led by Steve Salazar’s vocal delivery, which is one of my favourite performances so far this year. He has a truly commanding presence and a tone and delivery that is unreasonably well suited to this style of music. His sound may present with a gruff barked edge, but it doesn’t prevent him from working in a ton of catchy melody in his delivery. He has a bluesy swagger woven into his delivery that reminds me of both Lemmy and Matt Pike and I can imagine that when the band performs live, he easily commands the stage.
Having said that, please don’t think that the instrumentals aren’t crucial to this album’s success. The guitar work on the release is absolutely fantastic, delivery tasty riff after tasty riff without pause. The album has some of the grooviest, most enjoyable stoner rock riffs of the year and will have the listener either nodding or full on headbanging along throughout. The tone used works perfectly for the sound and energy of the album, giving just enough heaviness without impacting the underlying groove that drives the release. The bass work on the album follows a very similar path, but rather than standing out on its own it works to amplify and expand on the sound delivered by the guitar. The drums also happen to work in unison with the guitar and bass complimenting both and adding quite a bit of driving energy into the mix. However, they never overshadow or work against the guitars, which are very clearly the driving force of the album right behind the vocals.
As far as favourite tracks go, I would have to say that Charon the Ferryman is one of the two songs I’ve come back to the most times. It just has an infectious energy to it that pulls in some very clear toned down thrash influences. I find myself banging my head along with this song every time I hear it and wish I could catch it live. The other track I keep coming back to is Black Trip Lord, but for very different reasons. This is my favourite track from a vocal perspective, as Steve gives us a truly powerful and somewhat dramatic delivery. Both the verses and the chorus on the track are fantastic and the riff that accompanies the chorus is stupidly catchy. I’ll also give a shoutout to Grim Greefo Rising, as this was the first song I heard on the album and it hooked me enough to draw me in to listen to the full album.
Overall, this is a truly solid debut and has me excited to see what comes next for the band. I can see this album having an extremely wide appeal with how catchy and powerful it is. It wouldn’t surprise me if I saw the album released on a major label in the near future and the band playing large festivals alongside many of the bands that influenced their sound.
Listen to and order the album: