Though Chapel Hill, North Carolina, is vaunted as an indie-rock mecca, plenty of Triangle bands hit plenty hard. The college town on the western edge of the Research Triangle was the birthplace of Merge Records, sure, but of Corrosion of Conformity, too, not to mention Buzzov•en.
Solar Halos is a newish trio formed about a year and a half ago by lifers of the Tarheel State’s heavy trenches: Drummer John Crouch and guitarist Nora Rogers both played in early live incarnations of Jenks Miller’s avant-metal juggernaut Horseback. Crouch also drums in blues-metal stalwarts Caltrop; Rogers played in grandiose metal duo Curtains of Night. Bassist Eddie Sanchez manned the low end in heavy post-rock outfit Fin Fang Foom.
Naturally, those past experiences inform Solar Halos’ heavy psych-doom, and provide easy touchstones. The nimble and insistent march to Solar Halos’ sense of rhythm, characterized by Crouch’s lissome tom-tom rolls, and its subtly shifting tides suggest Horseback. The brooding attention to melody and post-rock dynamism are borrowed from Fin Fang Foom. When Rogers’ tectonic riffs disintegrate into acidic power-amp feedback, it recalls the hissing doom of Curtains of Night. (There are plenty of links to other contemporary heavies, too, primarily Kylesa and Pelican.)
But as much as Solar Halos’ evokes its collective résumé, it allows its component players to explore different facets of their varied skill sets, in turn carving the band a new niche. Each member is allowed plenty of room to flex, and the songs benefit from the intricate instrumental interplay. Songs like “The Vast White Plains” don’t build and explode; rather, they burn slowly into protracted seethe, gradually building in intensity.
Rogers and Sanchez unleash a torrent of fuzz over a classic two-note drone vamp; Crouch underpins and counterpoints Rogers’ and Sanchez’ fuzz-laden assault with his own thunderous tumult, locking into thick grooves and unleashing concussive volleys with merciless precision. “Migration” works similarly, with Sanchez here offering a countermelody to Rogers’ snaking guitar line; Crouch punctuates each of Rogers’ strums with a heavy cymbal rush.
Raw power isn’t Solar Halos’ only asset. “Tunnels” is as acute as it is crushing: its hazy, atmospheric opening, built on Rogers’ ringing arpeggio, hangs a sudden left exactly two minutes in, and the song becomes a heavy torrent of thudding toms, fuzz bass and power chords. The changed is marked only by a single ping from the bell of Crouch’s ride cymbal.
Even the more glacially paced songs — like the slow-burning “Resonance” — don’t plod so much as they march. The constant momentum imbues the songs with movement, preventing the songs, at an average of a hair under seven minutes, from seeming overlong. These are sprawling epics, for sure, but they carry the urgency of singles.
That Rogers and Sanchez sing, rather than scream or shriek, helps Solar Halos carry that immediacy, too. As much as Rogers and Sanchez offer vocal counterparts, they offer lyrical counterpoints, too. On “Vast White Plains,” Rogers sings of fruitless wandering on oppressively open plains, but Sanchez offers hope in the chorus, belting that “The light will lead you home.”
“Migration” features a similar dichotomy. Rogers rasps in defeat about storm clouds, barren wastelands and terrible floods. But Sanchez answers with resolve: “Your strength / Your courage withstanding,” he bellows. And in the chorus, they intertwine, offering a silver lining (“I’ll drown your sorrow”) to Rogers’ early fatalism. For a loud-rock band, the trio exhibits an emotional range — a vulnerability, even — far greater than the typical all-aggro payload. That peculiar dichotomy makes Solar Halos’ particular brand of heavy rock defy easy categorization: more approachable than metal, more grounded than psych-rock, more deliberate than doom.
After last September’s Hopscotch festival in nearby Raleigh, Spin touted Solar Halos, which played right before stoner-metal legends Sleep, as having the Best Blueprint for a Hard-Rock Future — not just for the Triangle, but for anywhere. “Solar Halos blazed up stoner-rock the way you always wanted it to burn,” Charles Aaron wrote. Hell yeah they do.