Maybe it's old hat to marvel at the sound produced by just a pair of musicians. The White Stripes and the Black Keys have left that idea in the dust. Still, there's something to the raw power produced by Class Machine that's worthy of admiration.
Perhaps it's Nathan Raleigh's use of the bass as lead instrument. Or that drummer Cody Tibbetts also handles guitar duties (this sort of has to be seen to be believed).
Regardless, it remains true that the duo's debut full-length, Swarm Theories, is like the Black Keys mixed with Zeppelin, a raw and aggressive thump and crash. Raleigh certainly comes out of the gate like Robert Plant in "Right of Way," high-pitched and wailing, then dialing it back into Plant's kind of swagger: "Looks like I'm everybody's problem/I'm the man of the hour." The guitar solo ain't exactly Jimmy Page, but, then, Page wasn't also playing the drums.
Most importantly, Raleigh is never anything but wholly invested. He's often breathless and crazed. He's pure desperation in "Predator Drone," wide-eyed and disbelieving for "you shot the gun, you shot the gun/You shot everyone." It's like he's being chased in "Carbonivore," with more of a tenor delivery in the mode of the British blues rock of the mid-'60s. Raleigh's open with "think fast, we're running out of holy water" provides an anxiousness, a rippling energy.
As you might expect, there are any number of cool repeating bass riffs. "Metal Cryptogram" is top of the heap, accompanied by a lower-down vocal delivery that's most normally sung and easy to make out. Then comes an impassioned screamo second verse and guitar riffage before a defense of the dying house show: "Police state, shows banned/Those who waxed for what used to be/What was left was a sonic cleft that the deft could see."
Then comes a solid wash of feedback in the finish, feeding into "What We Were Like," a quick 2:48 of Nordic ice pioneering, with chilly guitar tone and crisp drums sounds. Really, the drums are rarely overwhelming, despite their importance to filling out the sound. There's no assault of cymbals or evidence of some giant kit. Rather, Tibbetts's playing is pretty straightforward and measured. They're always very present in the mix, but never in the way of the melody.
The drums propel the ultra-quick "Lightning Rod," an absolute buzzsaw of a song, punk with some Primus to it. But then Tibbetts, too, downright shuffles into "The Prince," allowing Raleigh to get away with a quiet falsetto that gives way to his amped-up and fuzzed-out bass. Variety is important to keep you going through an album with only so many sonic elements. Like Steven Tyler doing "Mama Kin," this is a swaggering, sneering kind of song that goes dark in a hurry: "My furtive moves are showing bloat/I tie the rope around your throat/I'll hurt the ones you love the most/I am not on your side."
Yikes. Which makes the bouncy and fun(ish) "Recollect" all the more jarring. It could almost be a They Might Be Giants song, all sorts of nostalgic and quirky and a nice change of pace for the last third of the nine-song album. But, just when you're getting settled — you guessed it — the loud distortion comes roaring in and all that nostalgia gets turned on its ass and kicked in the face.