Nov 18, 2014

The Budos Band - Burnt Offering

For the first five years of their existence, it was a fairly simple matter to take a guess at the title of the next Budos Band recording. That’s what happens when your debut is called The Budos Band and the next two albums are The Budos Band II and The Budos Band III. That’s called establishing a precedent. And so, when the Staten Island “instrumental afro-soul” band announced that their Oct. 21 album would be titled Burnt Offering rather than The Budos Band IV, it was clear that something was up.

Reviews of Budos recordings tend to minimize the amount of growth and transformation that did go on between Budos Band I and III. The three LP’s can’t rightly be called “extensions of the same musical thought”—they’re more like a journey down an increasingly apocalyptic road. Like a high fantasy novel, they begin in a place that is bright and almost (relatively) innocent before growing and multiplying in the audaciousness and opulence of their arrangements. By the end of Budos Band III, there’s a distinct impression that these sprawling funk instrumentals are teetering on the edge, clearly brilliant but moments from spinning out of control. The band is performing music like Bobby Fischer played chess. It may have simply been an unsustainable arc.

And thus, Burnt Offering, which represents a full-on mutation rather than the previous steady evolution of Budos music. It’s 2014, and in the band’s Daptone studio, it would seem guitars are all the rage. Because for the first time, “funk rock” becomes an accurate descriptor for the still-complex musical sprawl, which now evokes the likes of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin right alongside Fela Kuti.
“The Sticks” is a fine example of what to expect, opening with a riff that sounds straight out of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Trippy keyboard swirls around the fuzzy guitars that are now leading the way, with occasional blasts from the horn section reminding the listener that you’re still listening to a Budos Band recording. “Aphasia” is similar but more segmented, trading off segments between familiar funk and vintage-sounding guitar breakdowns that could have been rescued from the cutting-room floor of some early heavy metal exploration. It’s difficult to say whether those two halves ever truly become a whole.

The most effective example might be “Magus Mountain,” which integrates the guitar arrangements organically with soaring horns to create something closest to the desired funk-rock fusion. The traditional drum kit (gone is the hand percussion) is also significantly more noticeable here than in most other Budos recordings, shouldering a greater burden of providing a strong foundation for guitars and horns to riff upon.

It’s a mostly successful experiment that, in all reality, still retains much of the DNA of The Budos Band’s past triumphs while simultaneously embracing a very specific stylistic addition. The new elements add freshness but simultaneously detract on some level from the band’s uniqueness, the x-factor that only they were able to provide in the past. There are still irresistible dance grooves here, but also more segments that are likely to call for headphone introspection. It might even be safer than that out-of-control feeling on Budos Band III. One can only hope that future Budos Band recordings retain at least this level of their signature sound—it’s entirely too good and too uncommon to discard. 


After three albums of uniformly excellent, Afrofunk-fueled instrumentals—titled, tellingly, The Budos Band, The Budos Band II, and The Budos Band III—where were the Budos Band to go? As great as their output has been to date, the New York ensemble had more or less painted themselves into a corner. In truth, there were many directions the group could have headed toward on their fourth album, but they dauntingly chose the path of most imaginable resistance: doom metal. Rub your eyes all you want; it won’t change that sentence. The Budos Band’s new album is called Burnt Offering—and from its wizard-sporting cover on down, it draws heavily from the late-'60s/early-'70s well of dark, arcane proto-metal.

To be perfectly clear: This is not your uncle’s Primus-shirted funk-metal. The majority of Burnt Offering is built on the same framework that the Budos Band has always used—elegantly simple guitar, deep pockets of syncopation, and bold shouts of brass—but here it’s been wreathed in the thick organ vamps of the bands that helped inspire metal, namely Iron Butterfly and Uriah Heep. Those looking for kvlt cred won’t find it here, nor should they; the album’s heaviest tracks, like the fuzz-slathered “Aphasia” and the gutbucket-distorted title track don’t come anywhere near the metal orthodoxy of Pentagram, let alone Black Sabbath. This is still Afrofunk of the Fela Kuti faith, with “Tomahawk” being the most horn-splashed and intricately polyrhythmic of the bunch.

When the delicate guitar intro of “Magus Mountain” drops into a propulsive, blown-out low gear, though, it’s as if Sir Lord Baltimore is jamming with Maggot Brain-era Funkadelic. The fidelity is immaculately retro, saturated and reverberating, which lends an even more eerily anachronistic tone to simmering, sinuous cuts such as “Black Hills” and “Turn and Burn”, the latter of which lands the album in some swampy epoch of alternate history. “Into the Fog” more or less says it all; with organ chords transmogrified into haunted-house groans, and monstrous stomps shuffling somewhere between Blue Öyster Cult's “Godzilla” and Fela’s “Zombie”, the song is all meat, zero subtext. Not that an album this earthy needs anything so subtle to get its freaky point across.

Burnt Offering has its own kind of subtlety, and most of it is in the interplay between meter, genre, and mood. When it falls a little flat, on the tame, muted “Trail of Tears” and “Shattered Winds”, it still manages to register as better-than-average Afrofunk with a tasteful layer of filthy hard rock smeared on top. It's not a profound exercise in fusion, and at times it seems the band might be amusing themselves at the expense of being taken seriously. But the most remarkable thing about Burnt Offering is that, at its core, it really isn’t all that much of a departure from what the Budos Band has always done. The neatest trick the album pulls off is in finding the unexplored commonality between Afrofunk and doom metal—deep grooves, murky atmosphere, hypnotic riffs—then playing them with joy and loopy abandon. Spooky, funky, freedom-loving fun: The chance to embrace something like that doesn’t come along often, and it’s to be cherished.


Don’t let that album cover and title fool you. The level of departure here is so slight that the boys could’ve gone ahead and just slapped a roman numeral four on there. The Budos Band’s approach to instrumental funk/soul has always had a touch of the ominous. They reclaim the original grandeur of Beethoven’s Fifth while fitting into the fun and frivolity of how the symphony has been fetishized over time. It’s music for dancing, to be sure, but it contains a mood that sort of hovers over the revelry. It’s looking down on itself from a great height. It isn’t imbued with judgement, necessarily, but a grave sort of knowingness. It feels good in the crowd, bathed in darkness and strange lights. But something is moving us, and we are a little bit scared of the possession. Most dance music uses this feeling as a segue to release. Budos Band just lays in the pocket and glowers with a fierce but composed solemnity.

All grasping pseudo-profundity aside, we’re talking more tasteful deep-funk liberally laden with monster-mashable, Éthiopiques-style keyboard drone. Burnt Offering lets things simmer a bit more here and there, but the record is pretty much business as usual. Despite prominent distorted rock guitar and snatches of discordance, this music is too classy for the b-movie scores that apparently inspired it. When I try to pair what I’m hearing with Argento or Romero films, it feels oddly ill-fitting. Yet the Budos sound is somehow very theme-oriented. It’s just that its foreboding swagger is too potent to take a backseat to a larger presentation. Perhaps their music is the theme to devil-may-care grace itself. That walk and lean and gesture to a world standing still in fearful anticipation.

The momentum of these songs is fearsome, their get-in, get-out run times elegantly restrained. Burnt Offering may not be a groundbreaker, and (as with previous outings) can begin to feel a tad rote if you’re not in the right mood. But this record is nowhere near the neighborhood of inessential. This is your Halloween party record, without a doubt, but really any party with Daptone artists blasting from the speakers is well on its way. So come for the gimmicks if you so choose, but you’ll be staying for the empowering, molten slab-rocking, stentorian fury these guys unfailingly bring time and again. Be sure and move somethin’ while you’re there.


Although the first three Budos Band albums (helpfully titled I, II and III) were generally regarded as straight-up Afro-beat and jazz-tinged funk/soul, rock elements did creep into the mix, and in recent years reviews of the instrumental group’s live shows have steadily grown more and more psychedelic. Burnt Offering is the culmination of that evolution, and it’s telling that they opted not to title it Budos Band IV; that mystic sleeve artwork, done by art teacher (and Budos drummer) Brian Profilio isn’t a coincidence, either. They said as much when announcing the record, noting how it “reflects their love of Black Sabbath and Pentagram as much as it does Fela Kuti.”

Indeed, right from the get-go the album proceeds along the aforementioned lines: “Into the Fog” and “The Sticks” both have signature heavy riffs powered by the bass guitar, and although the group’s horn section is equally busy, the tunes’ arrangements suggest a ‘70s rock band utilizing horns rather than a traditional funk ensemble tipping its hat at rock music. The title track recalls vintage Deep Purple, what with its ominous introductory chords followed by the launching of a heavy bassline, gloom-and-doom keyboards and searing/droning lead fuzz guitar all dominant over the horns. And “Magus Mountain” has an unexpected Nuggets vibe to it—speaking of psychedelic—in the way the guitar and organ suggest a garage rock tune with horns added to it. Even the songtitles tilt in this direction: “Aphasia,” “Into The Fog,” “Shattered Winds,” “Magus Mountain,” “Turn and Burn,” etc.

What will be interesting to see is whether the Budos Band’s fanbase will follow ‘em down this path because the group did make its reputation as being one of the more prominent young Afro-beat ensembles to emerge in the recent past. One imagines certain purist fans recoiling and dropping out while a host of newcomers discover ‘em. Regardless, artists fiercely need to experiment and evolve—case in point, another “non rock” group, Latin/funksters Brownout, recently recorded a tribute to Black Sabbath titled Presents Brown Sabbath that’s been earning rave notices—so it’s likely that a combo as talented as the Budos Band will remain a work in progress, unwilling to rest on laurels or sit still for very long.

Released on Daptone Records on Oct. 21, Burnt Offering, the new full-length album from The Budos Band, steps a bit away from the dance floor.

It moves toward the ooze of early Black Sabbath. Slithers through the minimalist rhythms of early the West German rock band Can. And swings with freedom similar to Scorpions in their Lonesome Crow fusion phase. While this record is a slight departure from all the Sly Stone and James Brown musical cues, it shines on as a natural progression. As any record collector will tell you, after you sample all the obvious funk Gods, where do you go? To the early metal, that was based in the blues.

As noted in the press release, the title track, “Into The Fog,” was recorded with a Binson Echorec, a classic tape machine used by Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett. With a trumpet solo that references early non-funky, pre-CTI Freddie Hubbard, it sets the tone of the 10-track instrumental record and stands as a warning call to fans of the band. This record will weigh a bit heavier on your brain fuzz-meter than a dance floor playlist.

And that’s OK. The Budos Band have proven with previous releases that they shake asses at shows. Consistently.

The uptempo afro-funk of the tracks “Tomahawk” and “Shattered Wind” checks in with Fela-inspired sax solos. And “The Sticks,” the second song on the record, is squarely centered on an organ-based groove. But it’s the new territory, complete with the boggy psych rock context, that gives this record a different identity.

The beautifully dirge-laden “Aphasia” reinforces the truth that all great guitar solos get better with a foot in your chest rhythm section. This is the early crunch and punch Black Sabbath tribute, but with a sharp horn line replacing Ozzy. The title track, “Burnt Offering,” wields ornate horn charts with psychedelia running amok on the organ keys, and then ends with an epic Keith Moon meets John Bonham drum solo. It is an awesome thing.

“Magus Mountain,” the standout song of the entire album, starts with a light Heart-esque guitar solo,  and then it boils ahead with the perfect balance of spiritual mysticism and rock-funk dominance. This synthesis of organ, bass, and in-the-pocket drum precision paints the perfect setting for the cavalcade horn charts to soar, swirl and explode. Keeping true to the character of the album, the breakdowns excrete with muddy metal and prog-rock essence.

Clocking in at just under 40 minutes, Burnt Offering is the band’s most challenging release to date.


What do you get when you blend psychedelic sounds, a nine piece band and add a pinch of movie soundtracks? Yeah, you know the answer to this silly hypothetical because you’ve read the headline.
Burnt Offering is The Budos Band’s fourth album and their first since 2010. The instrumental ten track offering is in no way charred, but it definitely has some hot riffs.

While previous albums by the New York outfit have been named in numeric order, Burnt Offering is the first to have its own title and it is evident why: the album departs from the more funk infused style of the previous records and delivers a psychedelic hard rock sound. Burnt Offering starts out slow but quickly builds up into a powerful rhythm.

Overall, it is kind of like a 60s James Bond soundtrack if Roger Moore were about to bust out some Soul Train moves. The opening track Into the Fog sums up it pretty well – you are about to enter into a haze of fusion.

Brass riffs are accompanied with an electric bite, which somehow manages to make funk sound brooding. At times there are worldly influences in the songs. The trumpet often sounds like it should be calling out from a baking Mexican desert and, in more than one instance, there was a Middle Eastern tone coming through.

Each song has a strong hook which is often repeated, which is what gives Burnt Offering that soundtrack vibe. Overall it works well as an album but the repetitive nature can make some of the songs blend into the background. The band have nailed intros, in particular the track, Magus Mountain has a very strong start.

The artwork for the album seemingly reveals some of the inspiration behind the album, it would comfortably sit at home on a Zeppelin or Sabbath record. In fact, the best way to describe the album is imagining Black Sabbath tasked with writing a Tarantino soundtrack, except replace Tony Iommi with brass and sax… and completely remove Ozzy’s vocals. Listen to Aphasia and you will feel it ooze Sabbath goodness.

Although it is a thoroughly enjoyable album to listen to, Burnt Offering does not break new ground in terms of sound, it just borrows from a number of influences to create a very unique but familiar concoction. In more ways than one way, it is nice to hear something which could have been released comfortably in the 70s being created in 2014.

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