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Saturday, September 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 65.0° F  Overcast
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MadTracks: 'In the Heather' by Romero

On their debut full-length, Take the Potion, Madison metal trio Romero tackle the age-old challenge of the stoner-and-doom realm: balancing low-end gratification with suspense and variety. The band does not wear a monotone coat of sludge, though.

Sure, Romero plod through dense chords and let out ominous vocal roars, but more often than not, they are simultaneously heavy and light on their feet. The intro of "One Means Four" uses a glockenspiel to creepy effect, and "Couch Lock" draws its power from a savage vocal duet between guitarist Jeffrey Mundt and drummer Ben Brooks.

Mundt begins the seven-minute closing track, "In the Heather," with a guitar figure that's almost ponderous. The song gets to a louder place pretty soon, but by way of a convoluted structure and changes of rhythm -- as if a big doom-y climax isn't really the point. Just when a nice, crowd-pleasing blowup feels likely, Brooks uses a slightly lighter touch on the drums to lead things elsewhere.

Like the album as a whole, it explores ways to slowly sear the eardrums. Brooks and Mundt engage in a bellowing call-and-response mid-song, and the vocals coming from either side of the mix show that Romero understand how to navigate the subtler areas between quiet and loud.

Romero released an earlier version of "In the Heather" as the b-side on its "Couch Lock" cassette single nearly a year ago. This new version is almost a minute longer.

Some songs on Take the Potion get to the point a little more quickly, especially "Wheeling Dervish." But whatever the pace, Mundt and bassist Steve Stanczyk give the record a great deal of different textures, from a muted, Queens of the Stone Age-like feel to gloriously ragged distortion. Madison organ player Tim Consequence lends a cool assist on a couple of songs, and the engineers of Madison's DNA Music Labs deserve a lot of credit for capturing the diversity of Romero's sound. The result is a record that neatly combines simplicity and a bit of prog-rock ambition.

MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.

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