North Carolina-based Weedeater has always balanced its stoner- and sludge-metal aspirations with a wide-open embrace of not just Southern rock but Southern culture as well. Songs about Dale Earnhardt sit alongside Lynyrd Skynyrd covers; odes to mystical demons were right at home alongside ballads praising the band’s titular indulgence.
But despite some commendable efforts (especially the group’s previous disc, God Luck And Good Speed in 2007), these two directions never fully reconciled, and the band’s masterpiece always seemed just out of its reach. Jason…The Dragon, the group’s fourth full-length (and second for Southern Lord), doesn’t quite put the group over the top of the mountain, but it’s never for lack of trying.
At its best, the trio’s pursuit of perfect Southern metal becomes almost compelling. The monster-in-a-hallway score underlying the cackling monologue of “The Great Unfurling” sets the disc up as more of a metal outing, and the down-tuned sludge riffing of “Hammerhandle” does nothing to dispel this. Yet the Macon County boogie of “Mancoon” and the molasses-thick riff of “Turkey Warlock” set that idea aside, painting both album and band alike as blatantly self-aware of the line they walk: one foot in the swamp, the other in the grave.
Yet the two styles never fully merge, leaving each element (no matter how well executed) to exist squarely in a vacuum. The warbled slide and gravel vocals of “Palms Of Opium” set up the Sabbath-esque “Long Gone,” while “Homecoming” conjures images of Black Label Society, minus the pick harmonics. “Whiskey Creek” tries to close with a banjo-on-swamp soundscape that would otherwise be the quiet, down-home end of the disc until a hidden straight-up Dixie piano jam takes Jason around the bend one last time.
While Collins, Stephens, and Kirkum move fairly fluidly between executions and genres, Collins’ vocals are arranged to be the most forward component of Weedeater’s sound. Painting a composite of Black Breath, Wolves In The Throne Room, and Bon Scott-era AC/DC, his vocals don’t necessarily prevent the disc from meandering, but still help it stay in the right general direction. It makes sense: when hanging out in the strange, smoky world where Weedeater lives, it’s probably okay to take your time getting to wherever you’re going — assuming that getting there is even the point.