When I began listening to The Ukiah Drag’s debut album I was a bit worried that I was destined for 40 minutes of headache inducing chanting. The introduction to In the Reaper’s Quarters is reminiscent of the audio off a horror film, with banging sounds building up to distressed vocals.
The album’s title, artwork (created by front man, ZZ Ramirez) and this ritualistic introduction give a good sense of the album’s dark and sinister style.
Recorded in a secularised Lutheran temple just off the Hudson River in New York, In the Reaper’s Quarters is “a hellish maw that chews up tired rock and post punk tropes only to reanimate them in other austere and lonely offices,” according to the band’s Facebook page. The band also describes itself as moving onto “new spiritual drippings”. This is evident from its shadowy sound and satanic lyrics.
The band is made up of ZZ Ramirez (guitar and vocals), Brian Hennessey (guitar and vocals), Andrew Eaton (bass), Nick Klein (keyboard) and Tommy Conte (drums).
Ramirez was formerly in Floridian band, American Snakeskin. After it split, he moved to Boston where he met Hennessey and Conte, who are also originally from Florida. Together they recorded two cassette-only albums Jazz Mama is Cryin’ and Variations of Candy while living in Boston.
The trio later moved to Rhode Island where Eaton and Klein joined them. The group of exiled Floridians then released their first studio production, Dirt Trip, through Wharf Cat Records; as well as the full-length LP In the Reaper’s Quarters earlier this month. The album of seven tracks was produced by Ben Greenberg.
Despite the intro not being my cup of tea, I was pleasantly surprised once the second track began with a more upbeat rhythm and a solid sound. ‘Her Royal Grip’ is the most popular song off the album so far and is definitely worth listening to. Its sound is a funky mixture of heavy rock and twanging, bluesy punk, with plenty of distortion coming through the music without affecting the flow of the tune.
For this and ‘Ratz Waltz’, The Ukiah Drag has a slight feel of The Doors about them. The band’s sound also brings to mind a darker, less polished Cage the Elephant. Yet, it has to be noted, that The Ukiah Drag’s lyrics are more sombre: “Has a demon in every pocket/ Wears the devil’s crown/ She gets up when the sun goes down”. Track four ‘Final Prayer’ suddenly gets much darker, heavier and warped sounding. The rest of the album continues in this style.
The album also features a cover of country, pop icon Lee Hazlewood’s song from 1968 ‘Wait and See’. Almost unrecognisable from the original, it is transformed into a beautiful and hypnotic rock song. For me, this is the second best song on the album. The vocals call to mind English band, White Lies. The album finally ends with the most twisted and haunting track, ‘Night of Immaculacy’.
In the Reaper’s Quarters is a breath of fresh air. Although The Ukiah Drag is reminiscent of some other bands, it is definitely unique with its fresh, atmospheric sound. The album is schizophrenic at times, but this is not a criticism because the varying genres and sounds keep it interesting from start to finish. It’s only a matter of time before these boys are big stars.
In the Reaper’s Quarters is available on wharfcatrecords.com, iTunes and Spotify.