Album Review: Passage to Agartha by Hotel Wrecking City Traders

Like many I think, I first came across Melbourne band Hotel Wrecking City Traders on their split LP with Hey Colossus. The single track taking up an entire side of that record, ‘Droned And Disowned (Pt.2)’ is an absolute monster, and was followed up a year later with the Australian duo’s Evil Hoodoo release ‘Phantamonium‘, about which I said at the time:

All in all this is an album of four tracks that, while all sharing the band’s DNA, each have their own characters and approaches. It’s not necessarily an album which progresses from track to track, but where each and every track has its own thrill and in that sense is really a must listen for through who love riffed-up psyched-out repeato-jams.

This is something that could also be said of this latest release. However, if anything, this double release feels like a step up in scale and ambition; and this time has more of a feeling of being taken on a journey (as the title would suggest). Something confirmed by Ben Matthews from the band:

Sonically the record builds as it travels and this led us to the name of the record and the concept of travelling deep to the core of the earth as a metaphor for the passages and movements in the songs. We recently played our first show with a bass player who looks to join us on a more permanent basis moving on and allowing us to recreate some of these songs in a live setting and working on more new ones.

Actually it’s more than a double release because there is also an extra track, ‘Oroshi,’ that is available for download on the vinyl and features on the double CDr release (this time on Evil Hoodoo, Cardinal Fuzz and Bro Fidelity Records).

From  the opening track ‘Quasar’ the band launch into their trademark big sound and really just kick it from the beginning. This is a massive track that really just nails it as an overture to something big. You don’t need to listen to the rest of the album to appreciate that it is going to be a monster because ‘Quasar’ is the sonic equivalent of an invading army ransacking a walled city, crumbling the defences of the mind with its pace and relentless attack of fuzz. It’s weird to be convinced that 80 minutes of music is going to be spot on, but ‘Quasar’ pretty much tells you to buckle down… it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

If anything things get heavier with ‘Kanged Cortex’, a massive deep riffed monster that does more than just chug along but, like a lot of this album, contains some nuance too. Yeah it’s another sonic attack on, well, your central cortex, but there’s also brief respites to the assault, moments of clarity that have a lightness to them which only go to accentuate the heavy sections. There are also moments to this near twelve minute epic when you just find yourself lost in the music as you tune into the track before it goes off on one again.

Well that’s side one (effectively of five) over and you already feel as if you’ve had your face melted, which is why the lighter beginning of ‘Chasing the Tendrils’ comes as something of a welcome relief. Here the band are finding new ways of stretching and expanding their sound, to good effect. At around the four minute mark the fuzz thrusters start kicking in again and you really feel ready to hit the go button again, this album is a marathon not a sprint and as such it’s about the journey much more than where you end up at the end. With ‘Chasing the Tendrils’ this is a seventeen minute sonic adventure that continues to change and surprise in ways that I’m not sure Hotel Wrecking City Traders have done before. The drop into effects and feedback at around seven minutes in feels ominous and chilling, well beyond the fuzzy psych riffs of yore. Then… gradually… they pick up the pace again in a section that is perhaps my favourite of the album as the band channel their inner Black Sabbath through a spaced out minimalist filter, letting it act as a fuse for what you know is going to be some unholy explosion at some unspecified point during the remainder of the album.

The title track continues to rebuild in terms of pace and weight, there are massive deep ravines of riffs being created and developed here, but at the same time there is also a top end of swirling spaced electronics that really take the track to another dimension (and the listener too). It’s on this track that you can probably most hear the process that the band took in recording the album, and Ben explained to me:

This record was approached in a fairly traditional way as far as we have approached many of previous records. We created it over 2 days in a studio with no real plans before going in. It was all improvised and this time we left the guitar parts more open as we did want to record bass and synth on the tracks if we felt they might benefit from some additional sounds and sonic textures. These overdubs were done some months later after the initial 2 days of recording.

‘Passage to Agartha’ is, in many ways, the track that you would identify as being as much like the HWCT you may have heard before but, again, there is more to it, which repeat listens gradually release as you begin to see how the ebb and flo of the music builds up a picture of the band’s journey to the centre of the Earth.

Last up on the vinyl version of the album is ‘Ohms of the Cavern Current’, which begins as it means to go on with a massive riff that, as much as anything here, reflects the scale of the album, Ben again:

The double LP idea came from the tracks themselves, their long lengths and wanting them to sit in a particular sequence, We were pleased when Cardinal Fuzz and Evil Hoodoo were up for a co-release so we were able to realize that vision. Having worked with Evil Hoodoo on our last release we were pleased to know that both labels were friends and had worked previously together.

While this may be a form of autosuggestion from the title I really like the expanse and echo within the molten lava of heaviness that really gives that feeling of slow yet inexorable progress… this is a track of geological proportions that leaves all in its wake…. did I mention it was heavy? Well yeah it is, but the around six minutes it it takes that heaviness and just ups the ante, a great way to end the vinyl set. Often these heavy riff-based space tracks end in a two minute orgy of feedback, but this one keeps going to the end.

Were that not enough ‘Oroshi’ is certainly no add on. A forceful track in its own right, and weighing in at over twenty minutes, it takes the album into near triple status. It takes up a number of the themes explored in the rest of ‘Passport to Agartha’ and builds on many of its themes, giving the band more of a scope to improvise and stretch out their ideas. I’m a bit too wrung out to cover this one in detail, but suffice to say that it’s well worth you getting hold of.

There is something about every track of this sprawling 80 minute epic journey into the Earth that, in different ways, shows that Hotel Wrecking City Traders are a band that are moving forward. While the theme of the album suggests introversion this is an album that is also spacey with expansive themes, perhaps exploring more psychological inner journeys as much of space rock often does. Whatever the case is here, the band have certainly expanded their sound and show a greater confidence in bringing out a set of music that is so long and yet keeps you going throughout.


‘Passport to Agartha’ is available on ‘lucky dip’ coloured vinyl from Evil Hoodoo, Cardinal Fuzz and Bro Fidelity Records, and on double CDr.



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