Everything about Ruby the Hatchet I have consumed in the last three months. That’s a decade’s worth of deeply affecting music that grooves, pummels, and humps all that is righteous about ’70s rock culture in a really short amount of time. In that proverbial nutshell of band mashups, it’s like Stevie Nicks joined Black Sabbath–with the right balance of pop sensibilities and coming-out-swinging Sabbath darkness and heaviness.
Ruby the Hatchet – Fear Is A Cruel Master (Magnetic Eye Records)
Release Date: Out Now
Words: Sunil Singh
So, I have been eagerly awaiting their latest album, Fear Is A Cruel Master, to come out and spin the bloody hell out of it. As you should be accustomed by now with my album reviews, I go track by track, so you can get a detailed and informative appreciation for the whole album–how rock music is supposed to be digested, right?
The first song comes on with an infectious, breezy lightness that feels like a great tune to start a road trip. So much so I hopped in my car to go for a drive and capture the beautiful fall colours that are in full bloom here in Canada. Pairing vivid physical landscapes with the multi-coloured musical universe that is Ruby the Hatchet was a no-brainer.
The song has all the retro feels but sounds oh so contemporary in 2022. While the song is anchored by the gorgeous, night-crawling vocals of Jillian Taylor, the whole band shows up with the heavy psych cohesion that has now become a signature sound of Ruby the Hatchet. I love how this song sticks to its early pacing and just jams out with the right amount of heaviness. It’s a wholly accessible song, ushering in freshness and warm familiarity with the band’s musical leanings.
I like how this song kind of stays in the same lane as the opening track. If it was wholly different, it would have created an uneven start to the album. Instead, it just gallops along with all the hooks and ’70s nods.
What makes Ruby the Hatchet such a unique band is that their influences are so deeply baked into their sound it is really hard to quickly pull out which songs, albums, and bands are being referenced. It’s just brilliant songwriting. Another mid-tempo gem that is driven by a great bass line towards the end.
And the demon pops its head out. I have been listening to Primitive Man and the following song for a few months now on YouTube as part of the Earthquaker Sessions. So, this song has been soaking for a while in my rotation. I love the slightly dirtier and ominous intro of this song. It just powers the whole song from beginning to end.
There are some nice breaks in the song that shine a light on Taylor’s vocals, but really, the whole band is shifting into high gear as the psych crooning and solid instrumentals merge for a tight finish. Three songs in, and this album has “take my money” written all over it. Seriously. Read the review later. Just go purchase the album now.
Coming into listening to this album, I had pegged this song as my favourite on the entire album. It’s just a gem of a song that aches and drips with a bittersweet softness. And while the song showcases the bluesy and mellow side of the band, a nice contrasting doom ending takes the song out.
The line “hell freezes over,” which is sung throughout the song, only gets amplified an emotional pull. This is the song I share with friends in terms of introducing people to Ruby the Hatchet, as it is the song which demonstrates the wide domain of songwriting that is the band’s arsenal.
The first few moments of this song feel like you are in some dimly lit after-hours jazz club. But, there is soon a transition into a dreamy, slightly edgy guitar tone. The talented band of Sean Hur (organ), Lake Muir (bass), Johnny Scarps (guitar), and Owen Stewart (drums/vocals) play around Jillian Taylor’s vocals, carving memorable moments and memories of rock lore.
An example is a brief burst of keyboards that sounds like Uriah Heep. And, sure enough, they do a kickass version of Easy Livin, reminding everyone under 50 that they were born at the wrong time. The jazz opening turns out to be appropriate, as the band stretches themselves with chords and time changes throughout the song. Taylor’s seductive vocals are peaking here.
I mentioned that 1000 Years was going to be my favourite song coming into this album, and it was going to be a challenge for the band to change my mindset. Well, Last Saga might be on its way to doing just that.
First, it opens with Owen Stewart singing, a surprise that works on so many levels. The finality feel of the song in its title and delivery reminds me of the ending of my favourite sci-fi film ever–Silent Running from 1972. The end of the film has a robot tending to the last forest in existence in this floating biodome in outer space. Taking the film out is the song Rejoice In The Sun sung by Joan Baez. As a kid, no other ending affected me more in terms of sadness–almost existential, looking back.
Last Saga could easily be placed here, and the emotional effect would be the same–namely because Ruby the Hatchet emotes with all the psychedelic and nostalgic residue of that time period. This song, unabashedly, wants to sit here.
If you thought you had time to collect yourself after Last Saga, the band thinks otherwise. I mean, just the title implies that things are going to get ramped up. Sure enough, the band is firing on all Ruby the Hatchet cylinders, glancing quickly at all the grooves and hooks of the ’70s, and flying right through them with a cruising speed that is catchy and heavy at the same time.
The band could have gone heavy or light to end the album, and honestly, with how great the album has been so far, either direction would have justified the closing track. The band chose heavy, with some of the fast parts seeming more like early Judas Priest.
But, the overall song still rides the coattails of Taylor’s soulful vocals. The guitar noodling by Johnny Scarps is a trusted anchor by now and shows up at the right moments here. The ending of this song, and this album, is a musical masterpiece of vocals, harmonising, and instrumentals.
Ruby the Hatchet plays in some heavy and dark places, but their overall output can best be described as gorgeous.
Fear Is A Cruel Master is one hot, sexy beast. Not leaving my rotation anytime soon. Put it in yours!
Ruby the Hatchet can be found on BandCamp at https://thehatchet.bandcamp.com.