The word ‘gringo’ – simultaneously a derogatory Spanish-language term for a foreigner and a descriptor for an outsider who has embraced a new culture – may initially be suggestive of Mexico, deserts and tequila, but this band from the Midlands of England is more complex than that.
In fact, the band’s monicker perfectly represents the two sides of their music. On one hand, The Cold Burn delivers dynamic, big-riffing stoner metal that is familiar and accessible, tying in with the latter definition of the word. But then there’s the other side, which deals with alienation and the unknown, and this is where the band’s wide-ranging influences come to the fore.
In addition to the usual Sabbath and Kyuss nods, this album resonates with the sorrowful wailings of Alice In Chains, AC/DC’s kick-ass attitude, the tight groove of The Obsessed, Voivod’s penchant for avant-garde experimentation, and even the lunatic sci-fi thrashings of Vektor. It’s a captivating combination that ensures Gringo have carved themselves a special niche in the overcrowded stoner market.
The Cold Burn cleverly balances progressivity and tradition. Straightforward metal passages that feature uplifting key changes and Iommi-inspired guitar work (particularly in the title track and opener ‘Decaying Orbit’) are countered with adventurous tempo switches and time signatures as well as synthy spacewalks.
A number of the songs feature atmospheric keyboard-tickling that would not be out of place on an Amorphis or Stratovarius album and it works brilliantly. In fact, it’s a shame that Gringo choose not to integrate even more of these passages into their music rather than in slightly self-conscious mini-tracks between songs.
There are a few other missed opportunities, such as the song ‘Curiosity’ – a dense, hypnotising creation that does not quite build into the epic it could have been. And the repeated use of layered vocals throughout The Cold Burn can make it difficult to engage with the central vocal melody. It’s a commonly used trick that too often saps a little energy from the music and here it reduces the impact of Gringo’s intriguing lyrical content. The band’s reliance on this would be understandable if singer (and guitarist) Marc Temple lacked confidence in the strength of his voice, but, as shown in strange little ditty ‘The Great Provider’, his vocals are potent enough in isolation.
The Cold Burn is an original and sometimes brilliant album that is sure to entertain, whether your cranium is accustomed to theoretical physics, Sabbath homage or good old-fashioned head-banging.