"War Bear"

(Ripple Music)

01. War Bear
02. Sword in the Storm
03. Drinkin' Alone
04. Bloodwash
05. Death of Giants
06. Alone Eyes Roam
07. California King
08. The Road
09. Son of Moses
10. Towards the Sun

RATING: 8/10

David McElfresh is one of the most talented cats you've never heard of, unless you follow Hank Williams, III or Davey Mac's country-peppered rock 'n' metal hybrid, MOONBOW. If the latter's the case, then you already know the songwriting potency of this multi-instrumentalist prodigy. Depending on how much he embraces his time as the shaggy metalhead swing vote on "Survivor: Caramoan", at this point, Matt Bischoff is one of the more colorful counterculture characters ever to receive Jeff Probst's game-ending torch snuff. At least the mondo-bearded Bischoff's music play remains strong; as he is one of the underground's most unique voices. MOONBOW may have to fight harder for your attention given the tighter confines of the fringe market they cater to, but the band is now under the Ripple Music umbrella, a huge win for both sides. Ripple Music is one of the most respected purveyors of pure rock, distortion and thunder metal, and it's for the best that MOONBOW has such allies backing its third album, "War Bear".

If you have been following MOONBOW, you'll no doubt be wondering what direction the band is taking this time after its brilliant second outing, "Volto Del Demone". That one melded country dirge with ALICE IN CHAINS pout pumps, its savvy theme remains thus far contained to the moment. "War Bear" is closer to MOONBOW's debut, "The End of Time". The album focuses largely on boogie rock, stoner and grunge with the folk and country shakes this time not only reduced, but thrown rearwards on two tracks, "War Bear" and "The Road", instead of serving as the band's customary leadoffs. Thus, this release has carefully borne fang, if not its predecessors' sinewy chomps. As with 2013's "The End of Time", MOONBOW also boasts a cameo from KYUSS/VISTA CHINO legend John Garcia.

The title track lumbers with a grumbling bass line from Ryan McAllister and pounding rhythm from drummer Steve Earle. David McElfresh peels off some filthy riffs and greasy top licks with Matt Bischoff promenading his rock troops, saluting the dead, smoking the dead and drinking the dead with proverbial bloody times trailing behind the group's reverie. Davey Mac's fiddling at the end of "War Bear", amidst the reserved carpet bomb din, is a perfectly planted swan song. The interlude conjures images of the blue and gray carnage strewn about pastoral Shiloh or Murfreesboro in the American Civil War—or in contemporary times, across the desert hellholes of Afghanistan.

The primary melody of "Sword in the Storm" is grunge-based with a SoCal fuzz rawk swing dropped almost as a prelude to the brisk-pumping, FU MANCHU-bred "Drinkin' Alone". If you're a MOONBOW follower, you're already detecting that David McElfresh and his cohorts seem intent on covering a ton of turf in the group's time together. Given that the band has the talent and the sweat to follow its own whims, it's no surprise when it settles into "Bloodwash"'s whispery dustbowl. Here Davey Mac somberly plucks his reverberating twangs en route to a HIDDEN HAND-spun piss rocker. The song placement is readily strategic as the doom-laden "Death of Giants" trudges forth thereafter. Though not the strongest song on the album, the lean muscle behind "Death of Giants" gives Davey Mac a rambunctious enough platform to slowly peal a reverential guitar solo.

The bass-driven "Alone Eyes Roam" is a grunge holdout's wet dream. Here Matt Bischoff turns out his best yowls amongst the step-heavy tempo and belched-out chords. Even if you don't directly know that John Garcia appears on "California King", by the title alone you should automatically detect his presence. As one of the coolest, AC/DC-pocked numbers on "War Bear", the song whumps hard with Matt Bischoff assuming the verses and John Garcia worming through the boogie-bombed choruses. Angus Young also gets his due through David McElfresh's whiskey-clogged chunks on "Son of Moses".

This is an album that gains a tremendous boost of appreciation when consumed through headphones, Ryan McAllister's ear-tickling bass intro to "Towards the Sun" being delicious aural gravy. It's in this setting where you gain the best insight as to Davey Mac and company's strengths. The group's been called a supergroup many times, and though "War Bear" is less stupendous than "Volto Del Demone", this is an overtly laidback, sometimes gritty demonstration by a group of musicians who have a lot to give to one another—hopefully for many years to come.


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