“The Rise of Riff City”
Released February 26, 2017
By Duncan H. Ros
St. Dude, an amalgam of a few local Pittsburgh musicians from what is known as the Duquesne Light Orchestra, began as a Halloween set as the Hives and quickly morphed into a sonic stoner rock playground. It’s a local supergroup of sorts, including members of The Park Plan, Action Camp, Supervoid and Semi-Supervillains. The result reveals of a wide range of influences that congeal into an original and relatively diverse album experience. I consider their latest release The Rise of Riff City a rare find considering that the Pittsburgh music scene that seems to stress band identity in a single musical genre or theme (save maybe Spacefish, who seem to reside in a state of artistic weirdness and innovation that is in itself self-defining). Not to say St. Dude are genre-less–it is very much oriented around heavy rock n roll, but they don’t seem confined to maintaining a singular identity within the classification and seem free to roam within it.
The first three songs “Refugee,” “Shellshock” and “Night of the Dragon” are heavy and droning while avoiding the indulgent monotony that bands like Om or Wolves in the Throne Room gravitate towards, and instead navigate their momentum among their heavy riffage with blues-rock influenced variation much like early Sabbath or the psychedelic desert rock of the mid nineties (looking at you Kyuss, Monster Magnet and almost anything produced by Brant Bjork).
“Atom Smasher” is a bit of a departure, taking influence from more dynamic and rhythmically complicated bands like Tool and A Perfect Circle, allowing for moments of tranquility among a sense of angular turmoil. The lyrics border on the metaphysical, and mutate from a soft melodic vocal cadence into a death metal growl as the song comes to completion. “Utopia,” my favorite song on the record brings in layered wah guitars and funk rhythms reminiscent of One Hot Minute (when Navarro briefly joined RHCP). The song is captivating in its buoyant dynamics and energy, and also utilizes an aggressive call and response vocal arrangement similar to Kylesa.
The final song “Thus Drove Ryan Gosling” begins with an arrangement taken from Strauss’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” the piece many would be familiar with in the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not quite Frank Zappa’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, but the guys in St. Dude clearly have chops, not to mention a sense of humor.
Bengt Alexsander obviously knows what he’s doing, and this release allows him to showcase his impressive abilities as an engineer and producer as he delves into heavier realms while maintaining his knack for subtle pop sensibilities evident on earlier releases. Fan’s of heavy yet eclectic rock n roll will not find their time ill spent checking out St. Dude.