After nearly four years of absence, Montreal blues-rock troupe The History of Gunpowder have produced a monster of a record. The Epileptic Volume 1, released independently on November 21, 2019, cements this band’s claim as one of Montreal’s greatest. A worldly collection of sounds is blended here with The History of Gunpowder‘s signature blues-rock filth. Six lengthy and ambitious compositions offer new discoveries at each listen.
The obvious first: singer Axmo has nothing less than a world-class raspy, grungy, dirty blues vocal style. Even the least experienced listener will notice this right out of the gate. Axmo sings with a soul full of sludge, and it’s beautiful. I found myself enjoying goosebumps all up my arms, especially after the third and fourth listens. This singer somehow channels both Ozzy Osbourne and Tom Waits when he’s really wailing.
However, Axmo, who is both the vocalist and composer, isn’t alone. A serious, ambitious, and eclectic band really brings these songs together. There are no fewer than forty individuals (!!!) credited as musicians and backup singers on The Epileptic Volume 1. I won’t name them all, but there are a few standouts:
- The 7-person string section gives just enough breathing room to balance the heavy rock
- Drummer Quinn “The Ostrich” Dennehy provides a thundering and rock-solid beat
- Bassist Stephane Krims is in the pocket
- Andrew Roblin has a few beautiful moments on pedal steel, giving this record a bit of a folk vibe
The variety of instruments is used here to add exotic sounds and an orchestral feel to a solid core of blues-rock. Opening track “Buenos Aires” features Middle Eastern sounding strings and a complex structure which sets the tone for all of the other songs on this album. If you thought blues-rock couldn’t display depth and complexity at prog-like levels, you’ll be proven wrong here. From there, a cascade of gripping titles dazzles with ongoing complexity, natural flow, stellar musicianship, and compelling songwriting. The before-last track, “Early Riser”, is particularly raucous and climactic. To close things off, “Cold Dead Hands,” feels like a perfect mashup of the best acoustic songs from Pink Floyd’s The Wall and Animals, with the added beauty of Axmo’s voice and Roblin’s slide guitar.
I have only one small gripe with this album. The string arpeggios in “So You Think You’re Alone” get repetitive. To be fair, though, I only began to notice this after the second listen.
Other than that, I think we can safely say we have a behemoth of a record to contend with. I can’t wait to see where The History of Gunpowder takes us next!
by Henri Brillon
*edited by Danielle Kenedy