Since 2006, Dallas-based metal band Wo Fat has seared ears around the globe. Make no mistake: This trio, consisting of Kent Stump, Tim Wilson and Michael Walter, isn't offering up simple hard-rock that's just hard enough to be considered metal. According to the group's Facebook page, "Psychedelic Doom" is how it likes to refer to its brand of stoner rock. And we aren't ones to disagree with them. In fact, as 2014 steamrolled to an end, many fans, metalheads and notable media outlets made sure to praise the band and its latest album, The Conjuring, for being something far more epic than a mere metal record.
We get why people are so excited about this album and the "Psychedelic Doom" label that just feels right when you sink into the world that Wo Fat creates. It's especially easy to wrap your head around the grandiose value of the five-song, 47-minute album upon even one listen (although repeated listens is a better idea, of course). Hammering home Wo Fat's vision, The Conjuring closes with "Dreamwalker," a 17-minute groove buffet sure to transcend anyone's sense of space and time.
With all of that in mind, it's of little shock that The Conjuring has ended up on its share of year-end lists for best metal albums. Some results aren't all that unexpected: Metal-centric sites such as The Obelisk, (which also gives local-act Mothership an honorable mention) along with international blogs devoted to metal such as South America's La Habitacion 235, ended 2014 by placing The Conjuring among their respective favorite records of the year. In a bit more surprising turn, late last week, NPR, not the outlet one immediately thinks of when surfing for metal-related news, included the album in its Top 10 Metal Albums of 2014, along with notable sludge shredders as Pallbearer and Riot V.
It's not that NPR reviewing metal is new; the beloved public radio outlet offers year-end metal lists with regularity. But it's still a bit of a shock to see mention of Wo Fat's skull-swinging metal next to an Amos Lee Tiny Desk Concert or a feature on Billy Joel. It's a cool bit of recognition for the band, regardless.
And it's timely as well. In March, the band will release it's first live record, Live Juju: Wo Fat at Freak Valley(Germany), the record will be their sixth full-length offering in total.
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The very metal-named Lars Gotrich of NPR states his case for including Wo Fat in the best of 2014 by saying simply, "The groove is strong with Wo Fat. Wo Fat is strong with the groove." Gotrich does go on to clarify a bit more with some regional specificity as to what sets Wo Fat apart by adding, "The Dallas band has a deep knowledge of Texas psych-rock, not to mention the chemistry of a blues trio that ain't missed its Friday night dive-bar gig in decades."
Understandably, the NPR nod is quite the trip for guitarist and vocalist Kent Stump, who also happens to own Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas.
"We were surprised, very pleasantly so, to be included," admits Stump. "We were surprised to be recognized in a more mainstream place like NPR. It's a great feeling to get recognition like that, especially from outside of the normal underground, heavy musical world that we're a part of. We've been just thrilled with the reception that this album has gotten all along since its release in June."
For Stump, all of the recognition is pretty sweet, given that he sees The Conjuring as the band's strongest album. That's saying a great deal, given the track-for-track strength of the band's entire catalog.
"We do feel like it is our best record to date," Stump says. "But it can be hard to be objective about one's own work. As we have always done, we try to stay true to our aesthetic while still pushing ourselves and playing on the edge at the same time."
Hard to judge one's art or not, it's not as though Stump doesn't grasp what it is about this album that forcefully grabbed so many ears in a new way, above and beyond their other fine records.
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"For us, it's important that there's a certain funkiness to the heaviness and riffs, which I think is something very apparent on The Conjuring. This is something that I think gets lost sometimes in the metal world and maybe some of our appeal is the grooviness of our music. At least I'd like to think so.
"It is also a very live album in the sense that most of it was played together as a band in the studio, which I think adds a certain vibe, energy and edginess to the recording that people can feel," he continues. "So that may be some of what people dig as well."
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