Des Moines’ own Druids had already established themselves as one of the city’s best bands, thanks to their solid stoner rock releases over the past seven years. But with their latest effort, “Cycles of Mobeum,” they have most assuredly taken their skills to the next level—and are poised to contend on a national stage.
Somewhat to my chagrin, they’ve lost much of the stoner fuzz in their sound; yet their songwriting and playing abilities make up for that. From the instrumental opener, “The Grand Sleeve of Time,” the tone is set for a more musical and blues-based affair. The opening track is languid, soulful, and well-executed.
From that point on, the album’s clear and obvious reference point is Mastodon. I say that with some hesitation, as Mastodon put out three great albums in the 2000s and since then has been atrocious. Thankfully, Druids takes their influence from the early, classic records. “Capturing the Firemares,” the second track on “Cycles of Mobeum,” is an unabashedly Mastodon-styled song title, nearly to the point of self-parody, but it delivers plenty of punchy, thudding riffs and skillful melodies to boot. “Dreams of a Surface” is similar, but even thicker and heavier, with a fiery and impassioned guitar solo.
After another instrumental, the ambient/acoustic “Trial by Stone,” we move into my favorite track of the album: the superb “Moon Systems.” Once again, it invokes prime Mastadon, bashing away with abandon while the vocals roar forth and spew a layer of fury. Then, after a portentous bridge that makes good use of the hi-hat cymbal, the song breaks into a rousing, serpentine melody line. Thunderous riffs follow, then morph into some excellent mid-period Corrosion of Conformity and/or Down southern swagger. More bright melodies return, and finally this middle section subsides. The last part of the track is lazy and brooding, coated in blues guitar licks. The layering and complexity of this song are delightful, and really show the band achieving a new level of maturity.
“Halo” is very nearly as good, reeking of Mastodon at their peak. It even brings a high, atmospheric Anathema-like guitar line in its early phase. “Halo” also brings the album’s heaviest moment in its closing minute, with massive, slamming beasts of riffs; while the middle is peppered with frantic, killer rhythm changes and melodies. The Druids machine is completely locked in at this point, again showing that their talents have eclipsed the trappings of amateur local rock band. Third instrumental “Oscillator” delivers an all-out smokin’ rock and roll attack, while finale “Warpia” is the oddball—practically a ballad for its first half, with a moody, Neurosis-like vibe in the middle and throughout the second half. It works well to close out the album.
“Cycles of Mobeum” sounds like more than the sum of its parts; it has an all-important x-factor that elevates it and makes it a worthwhile and cohesive journey. I saw these songs played live just a few weeks ago—my third time seeing the band—and they were better than ever. Druids’ influences are plainly obvious, yet they avoid sounding purely derivative. Think of them as a more stoner-tinged Mastodon, but more importantly, check them out and hear how they have ascended to being one of the best unsigned bands in the Midwest.