Our overall verdict "Excellent"
As soon as the first notes of Hagstone's debut EP 'Ancient, Majestic' come rumbling out of my speakers, two thoughts leap to mind: they must be drinkers, and at least one of them most likely has a beard. Once this winning combination has been confirmed, you know that you're probably onto a winner.
The North London quintet kick of the release as they mean to continue, with the lengthy, mid-tempo stomper that is 'Nowhere Child'. The southern-sounding sludge rock tune rumbles on with the odd bit of wah getting a look in here and there, before vocalist Gio lets his pipes rip. Whilst the instrumentation follows a tried & tested formula with great success, what grabs my attention here is the slightly grungy, Layne-Staleyesque vocals which work unexpectedly well within this genre (indeed, it's no surprise to learn that Gio's a big fan of similar early 90s material and cites Eddie Vedder as a major influence). The more open, mellow passage in the middle of the song acts as a great platform for Gio to showcase his technique, before a flash of brilliance from Istvan on the drums brings the tune back to the comfortable, unrelenting stomp.
The production on this EP is exactly what you'd want (and expect) from a release in this style - extremely raw, with a constant underlying hum created by a very special blend of driving crash cymbals and over-distorted guitars.
'Like A Rat' continues in the same vein, but with a darker undertone a thick, chuggy guitar work, and it becomes apparent why some may attach the 'doom' label to Hagstone. It features a massive chorus with hammering china cymbals throughout, with an interesting double tempo section with some interesting syncopation and cowbell work (yes, that's right, cowbell in sludge rock!) whilst Gio again gives it his all.
The short-but-beautiful instrumental passage 'Moment Of Clarity' shows the compositional maturity of guitarists Deko & Rob, with some great playing and melodic lines, but the dirty riff and catchy leads of 'Not A Dream' kick in. A slightly slower tune but still maintaining the 'Hagstone sound', it features an acoustic bridge section with spacey overtones, which give an interesting new twist on this already well-understand (and loved!) genre. The tempo begins to pick up towards the end, which will have you succumbing to the urge to crack open a bottle and raise it high with a massive grin, before it launches into a brilliantly fitting guitar solo.
'Ancient, Majestic' comes to a close with yet another long one in the form of 'Burn Me Blind', which after a bass intro features a catchy chorus and solid vocal hook, before launching into an absolutely monster riff out of the first chorus, whilst the vocals near the end call for a live sing-along at gigs.
As the sound of Hagstone's debut release fade away, I'm left thinking that it can be perfectly described as the soundtrack to good spirits and a great night out - indeed, I urge everyone to head down to one of their shows ASAP, get a few on board and headbang the night away.
I know I will!
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