This is why metal can be so exciting. This is why, at their best (which admittedly can be rare) metal fans are a breed apart, never content to stick to the mainstream path, always finding the hidden corners and crevices where great music is being created. I don’t know if you normally think of New Zealand as a hotbed of metal activity, particularly for sludge and doom, but one listen to They Seek My Head, the debut from Wellington band End Boss has me thinking there’s something in the water and we should all be paying attention.
Crafted over a period of months during New Zealand’s lockdown, They Seek My Head feels like a statement of intent – there’s zero ambiguity as to what the band wants to accomplish. And that is to rock hard, taking a cross section of hard stoner rock and injecting a sludgy doom rhythm behind some serious vocals courtesy of lead singer E.J. Thorpe. She has a classic, deep (not low) tone that reminds me of the excitement I had the first time I heard a band like King Witch, where the music punishes as the volcano melody carries the emotion to new heights. Thorpe deftly maneuvers her voice between some nasty riffage from guitarists Greg Broadmore and Christian Pierce. Take a song like the blistering “Nail and Tooth” where the tempo is elevated and the chugging is fierce. Rather than match that cadence Thorpe slows it down, riding the wave with a sonorous croon that has your head matching her pace instead of everyone else.
But if you’re going to start somewhere with They Seek My Head, it might as well be at the beginning. Everything you need to know about End Boss are on the first two tracks. “Heart of the Sickle” is a whopper of an introduction, starting off with bare guitar before moving into a pulverizing riff made more thunderous with Nathan Hickey of Beastwars behind the kit. When the chorus comes in Thorpe layers waves of background vocals that envelop her leads and give this thick, syrupy feel that transitions into a snarling, nasty section. The sludge is here, and it is thick.
On the other side of the coin is “Punished” which is trimmed of all the fat, leveling the landscape in a brisk three minutes and fifty seconds. It’s the moment where the guitars threaten to overtake Thorpe’s voice, and then it rises again in intensity. The song moves mountains, and drips with the weight of the punishment we put as much on ourselves as we do on others.
There is a weight, a staying power with all the songs on They Seek My Head, an inexorable draw from beginning to end during its 33 minutes. In that time I found myself vigorously moving along to every verse, nodding to every chorus, and generally moved by how assured a debut End Boss have put out. I can’t wait to see this thing get some legs, for the band to grow into a mammoth of metal, and to see what else is brewing on the other side of the world.