To make a record that sounds as full, complete and balls-to-the-wall heavy as Murcielago just did, you apparently have to record it twice. Which is exactly what the Portland rock foursome did.
Murcielago — bassist and lead singer Neil Collins, guitarists Ian Ross and Matt Robbins and drummer Brian Chaloux — recorded their debut album once, nearly five years ago. Then, after a lineup change, a break with a label, finding a new label and all the usual personal life stuff, they recorded it again. And this time it stuck. Their self-titled debut album, which came out last weekend during a jam-packed record release party at Empire in Portland, is tightly wound, expertly written and full of thick, crusty slabs of 70s-rock inspired riffage. In short, it’s awesome.
“Getting this album out there was a very long process,” said Collins, who’s played in countless Portland area bands, from Twisted Roots in the 1990s to Space Vs. Speed in the late 2000s. “It’s a saga. It’s a little comical, even, because the story kind of mirrors the state of the music industry right now. I’ve been playing music in this state for years, and this is what band life is like now.”
A brief history, to start. Murcielago formed in early 2009, playing heavy rock — inspired by grandfatherly gods of rock like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, of course, but taking cues from stoner metal like Kyuss or Fu Manchu. They quickly developed a reputation throughout New England as a live force to be reckoned with.
“We get the stoner rock label a lot because it’s a handy way to describe what we do, because we’re very much rooted in that classic 70s sound,” said Collins. “But not, like, a bunch of bong ripping D&D players. More obscure than that. It’s rooted in blues, too.”
In early 2010, they recorded their debut album in Portland, and shortly thereafter hooked up with Mad Oak Recordings, through respected stoner metal label Small Stone.
Then things got a little strange. Those Portland recordings were uneven and the mixes were coming out badly. Then bassist Nick Lamberto left the band. Then Collins picked up the bass and guitarist Ian Ross, formerly of Boston stoner metal band Roadsaw, joined Murcielago. Then engineer Benny Grotty, of Mad Oak, told the band to just re-record the whole thing — which they did, in less than two weeks.
“Ian learned all the guitar parts with astonishing ease,” said Collins. “And Benny just made the whole recording process incredibly easy. We were floored. He captured our sound. He’d seen us live and he knew what to do.”
Just as they were getting ready to finally release the thing, however, Mad Oak Recordings parted ways with Small Stone, and the band found themselves without a label or means to distribute the album. After all that time, Collins and the rest of the band decided to just put the damned thing out themselves. A month later, “Murcielago” was unleashed upon the world.
“We took it back and made the decision release it on our own,” said Collins. “Sometimes, if you want to get things done, you’ve got to do it yourself. And, as it turns out, we’re selling copies of it all over the world.”
Metal fans, and rock fans more generally, are probably the most devoted music fans you’ll ever encounter. They go to shows. They buy — not download or stream, but BUY — albums. And t-shirts. And blog about it. And tell other people about it.
“I think music like ours is easy to relate to, because it’s based in the blues, but it’s not just the same chord changes over and over. It’s an easy basic concept, that can be expanded upon in all kinds of ways,” said Collins. “Plus, people get really dorky about guitars. Anyone who loves guitars loves this kind of music. I’m always laughing at the ways that Matt and Ian play off each other. It’s a genre that has a very loyal following. We just sold an album in Australia. It’s already blown way past our expectations. It is very cool.”
Murcielago’s debut album is available at Bull Moose Music locations.