Album Review: Wo Fat — “The Singularity”

Let’s get the long and short of this review out of the way right off the bat: if you’re a fan of stoner heavyweights Wo Fat, you’ll likely be well aware of — and hyped as fuck for — The Singularity, the band’s first full-length in nearly six years. After all, the Texas trio possesses an immense scope and abundance of god-tier stoner riffs, which combine to make each new release feel like a proper event. When you hear rumblings from the House of Wo Fat, you get pumped — it’s that simple. And guess what? On The Singularity, the band continues to make damn good on all that hype.

Those looking for a bit more than the TL;DR version? Read on…

It’s always felt a bit funny to me that I’ve developed such an affinity for Wo Fat despite… not really ever dabbling in substances myself. (Aside from one particular instance at a Clutch / The Sword show a decade ago that, basically, became the reason there have been no subsequent instances.) Am I correct in feeling like a bit of a fraud? Do you need that state of mind-alteration to really appreciate stoner bands?

In Wo Fat’s case, I’d argue not, because the good things they do are all done so well that it cancels out the bad things I’m doing as a listener. (Namely, not toking up while listening.) What are those good things? Well, reader, I’m so glad you asked!

1. Wo Fat creates a potent, “choose your own adventure” imagery with their music

Put simply, listening to Wo Fat takes you places. The band’s fuzzy, murky excursions create a vivid, technicolor canvas in your head, but also — critically — leave enough room for your imagination to fill in the story cracks.

Pop on near-14-minute opener “Orphans of the Singe,” for example, and it’ll feel like you’re being transported to a fiery-skied desert wasteland. For some, it might feel like this desert. Others might see something closer to this one. In either case, Sam Elliott’s probably there, too, cowboy hat and all, beckoning you further on this mystical journey, because… I mean, it’s a desert, so there must also be a Sam Elliott, no?

And hey, you might get a completely different image from either of these! That’s the beauty of Wo Fat. For more than three-and-a-half minutes, the band gradually brings its riff stew to a boil, allowing plenty of time for you to build your own story. Throughout The Singularity, the band’s extended groove parts never feel like filler, but instead serve to create a more active listening experience. Which brings me to my next point…

2. Wo Fat really, really sticks the landing with longer songs

Reader, I’m not normally one for long, drawn-out songs. In most cases, I’d rather a band wow me and get out over a tight 4-5 minutes than show me every idea they ever had for this song over 12 or 13. Too often, it can feel like adding length subtracts from cohesion, and songs can start to feel like they’re losing their way. (Is this more a reflection of me as a listener than the bands as creators? Probably!)

And yet with Wo Fat, I’ve never really had that issue — and they do get quite lengthy at times. “Orphans of the Singe” clocks in at nearly 14 minutes, mid-album cut “Overworlder” runs for nearly 12, and closer “The Oracle” for a hefty 16:32. Hell, the shortest cuts on The Singularity both come in just shy of eight minutes. But because the band’s so good at simply keeping you engaged, their immense scale never feels like a burden.

That engagement might come from the extra “imagination wandering” time we talked about before, or it might just be in watching a slow burn unfold in real-time. Hell, it’s probably that, even in their most drawn-out passages, every note feels essential to the overall picture, rather than just tacked on. Regardless, Wo Fat proves time and again to be one of the best around at executing unhinged, expansive song structures.

3. Wo Fat are criminally underrated riff geniuses

Now this, here, is the money maker. To listen to Wo Fat is to have guitarist Kent Stump and (now-former) bassist Zack Busby toss you in the cab of a vintage El Camino, then slam on the gas and make for riff heaven. At its best — which is often — the band builds on its foundations in the stoner and doom subgenres by peppering in a looser, bluesier feel that suggests almost a more metallic ZZ Top.

At times — the initial build of “Orphans of the Singe,” the breakout riff at around 2:25 of “The Witching Chamber” — it’s heavy as all hell. Heavy enough to make you wonder how on Earth only three people could make this much sound. But then, there’s also an irresistibly fun, kind-of “yeeeeeeehaw!” energy that helps set the band apart from its contemporaries. Plenty of bands can do heavy, but nailing down the boogie-tastic opening riff of “The Snows of Banquo IV” or, say, “The Unraveling’s” impeccable sense of groove? That’s a rarer trick.

“So what?” you’re probably thinking. “Plenty of bands have riffs.” And fine, you’re not wrong. But with Wo Fat, it goes beyond simply having riffs”; for these guys, the riff is an entire art form unto itself, worthy of display in a museum. (If, you know, such a thing were possible.) The riff is Wo Fat’s very raison d’être, and on The Singularity, the band is more than happy to flex those existence muscles.

Speaking of “existence muscles” — a phrase I don’t think has ever been used before but which I’m now wholly committed to making ‘a thing’ — let’s talk about the end of the world.

Wo Fat have described The Singularity as being thematically linked with various existential crises facing the world today — environmental devastation, widespread disinformation and cult worship, and the destruction of humanity among them. Flip on just about any form of media today, and you’ll realize that, yeah, these guys kinda know what’s up. Obviously, we all hope the worst doesn’t come to pass. But also, hope’s kind of in short supply these days, isn’t it? (Again, flip on just about any form of media today, etc. etc.)

So let’s assume this is all true: we’re in the worst case scenario, and the world’s hurtling toward the end of all things faster than any of us realize. If the end is nigh, I don’t think I’d mind going out the way The Singularity cover artist Eli Quinn envisions it: with a big fucking mecha-dinosaur scorching everything in sight. And, naturally, with this album playing in the background.

Keep it heavy,
Dan

The Singularity is available now via Ripple Music. For more information on Wo Fat, visit the band’s website or Facebook page.

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