Steven Archer, the man behind the machine that is electronic project Stoneburner, is a very busy man. He is already part of Ego Likeness and Hopeful Machines, on top of his newest solo project, as well as an artist and writer. While his previous band work is more rock-oriented, this newest ordeal is influenced by tribal rhythms, some would say “worldbeat.” Though the bulk of Stoneburner’s newest EP Red in Tooth and Claw is definitely informed by the extensive body of work of its creator, the songs have a range of tastes, from atmospheric soundscapes to thumping bass and low tones.
Beginning proceedings is the title track, which takes its sweet time building an uneasy, tense atmosphere. As the percussion and piano take over, the rest of the instrumentation makes its way inside to jar the listener. It is a dark, gruesome opener which lives up to its and the album’s title. “Destroy Devour” is a percussionist’s dream in its opening moments, with a bridge that sees the vocals take a melodic approach a la Burton C. Bell. Said bridge is slightly lighter fare, a bit more synth-driven than the clattering rhythms in the rest of the track, allowing the listener to swallow in the midst of doing what the second word of the title implores.
“The World Wolf” thumps and pounds along with a prominent bass line behind distorted vocals and other electronic effects. A melodic chorus brings clarity to the dance, and that dance is filled with boots made for stomping, not walking. The first lines of “And All Things End” had me dancing in my seat on the first couple of listens, as the tempo slows down a hair, in favor of a low and slow groove. The smoother, gliding sort of groove continues in “My Love is Never Ending,” though the last section picks up the pace and races towards the end goal.
“Unsympathetic Magic” lets things breathe for a bit, with a greater focus on layers of soundscapes and less of an explicit rhythm or pacing. With this track, the journey is a walk through a bright, yet still ominous landscape, as opposed to the pounding the pavement that much of the previous five tracks have been. The ironically-named last number “I’m Not Done” is a cover of the Fever Ray track, featuring building percussion and layered vocals creating another smooth groove.
Just when we think we have the answers, Archer changes the questions, to borrow a line from “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. Stoneburner is perhaps greater than the sum of Archer’s musical parts, and Red in Tooth and Claw is a testament to that. He brings together the hallmarks of his previous projects in such a way that it’s hard to predict what comes next. In doing so, the music is made exciting, almost unpredictable. Fans of any of Archer’s other projects cannot afford to miss this one, and those uninitiated would be wise to remedy that.
Red in Tooth and Claw is available for streaming and purchase via the artist’s Bandcamp page.