The 9-man-strong instrumental afro-funk collective take the unusual step of looking to metal for influences – but mercifully don’t end up playing funk-metal.
When you find a groove it can be hard to change things up even a little bit without losing it completely. The Budos Band had thus far avoided this problem by not changing things up at all and releasing 3 largely interchangeable albums and an e.p. on the spiritual home of modern funk and soul, Daptone Records, since 2005. That’s far from a criticism – their sound sure wasn’t broken, so it would have been a crime to try and fix it. Some bands do one thing so well you almost don’t want them to do something else. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I approached Burnt Offering, the first Budos record to breaking their numbered album title sequence, especially they’d reportedly drawn on their collective love of metal to inform a more hard edged, experimental Budos. On paper that could go hideously wrong – even for a man with a soft spot for early funk-fueled Red Hot Chili Peppers and Incubus albums like myself the words ‘funk metal’ send a shiver down the old spine. Thankfully it’s not like they’re channelling the likes of Meshuggah or Emperor into their afro-beat powered funk brew, as entertaining a disaster as that could have been. No, they’re incorporating the kind of 70s hard rock & metal riffs that are more likely to get labelled Stoner Rock or Psych when played today. And it’s worth remembering that The Budos Band almost-sort-of translates (it’s complicated) as The Bearded Band – and if you call yourselves The Bearded Band you should probably know a thing or two about laying down some hazy riffs.
If it weren’t for the doomy cover you might not detect anything had changed in camp Budos at first. It takes a little while for these influences to make themselves known. Opening duo Into the Fog and The Sticks sound like classic Budos for the most part, other than a suitably portentous intro for the former and a bit more guitar distortion and a straight up bit of soloing on latter. It’s the details that are different – given their new found metal leanings it’s tempting to make a ‘devil in the details’ gag here, but the brass section still sounds like it’s serving a higher power. It isn’t until third track Aphasia that the guitar is brought centre stage, with a slow bluesy stoner riff at the centre of a relaxed jam. To begin with it appears that in locking it into a steady rock beat their rhythm section would have it’s wings clipped and not be able to produce the kind of afrobeat that has driven them on for so long. But they thankfully prove unfounded – their back line is too formidable to be weighted down by mere hard rock orthodoxy and it isn’t long before they’re back riding an incredible groove. The hazy prog-toned organ lends a psych edge to proceedings – funk isn’t usually the choice of music for people to zone out and get lost in, unless in some kind of ass-shaking fugue, but that’s the kind of vibe their heady mix of influences have created here.
The rest of the record splits the difference between old and new Budos – straight after Aphasia they’re delivering a similar kind of afro-soul groove that they always have on Shattered Winds. The horns soar, the guitar drives onward with a percussive melody, the drums skitter and bounce and try to pin down a loose, freewheeling bassline. It’s what they do best – and it still sounds fresh. Then Black Hills brings things back to a chilled, fuzzed out groove – any slower and they’d be inventing afro-doom, a prospect as terrifying as it is brilliant. Later on Magus Mountain comes with the most straight ahead guitar riff they’ve used to date and still ends up creating something impossibly insouciant. Indeed Burnt Offering has some of the most laid back songs in a pretty laid back career, their bringing of the rock working to chill things out rather than make things heavier. It adds up to an odd blend that can’t accurately be compared to anyone else – maybe if the original funk band who could play rock made a blaxploitation soundtrack we’d have something comparable to what the Budos have cooked up here.
Despite the wizard-adorned cover and newly distorted guitars it feels like they’ve held back a little on their metal influences, which is unsurprising given how unusual a blend of styles that is. The new Budos may look a bit more metal but sounding very much like the old Budos – but to bastardise that old cliche one more time it wasn’t broken so it’s all for the good that they didn’t do too much fixing. When they do it’s a surprising success; it’s a blast listening to the Budos playing dress up in black, but truth be told they still sound too damn righteous to sound convincing when playing it evil.