The Screaming Trees were a band from Ellensburg, Washington whose career spanned from the mid 80s till the end of the 90s. They shared a geographic location with the ‘grunge’ bands but for a variety of reasons they didn’t achieve anything like the success of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc. It has been mentioned elsewhere that the appearance of Mark Lanegan and the Conner brothers counted against them but in actual fact their sound proved an issue. Their music is not hardcore grunge, but a more melodic brand of hard rock, a sort of classic rock without the bad hair and cheese factor. Almost like a rockier version of The National.
This is an album compiled from the abandoned sessions for what would have been their final album. The recordings have lain dormant since 1999 but have now made been available, but resist accusations of cashing in as this band has never had commercial appeal. The real question is does this ‘new’ Screaming Trees material stand up with the rest of their back catalogue?
It certainly does. Screaming Trees had a basic ‘template’, Gary Lee Conner riffing away to kingdom come with Lanegan barking blue murder over them, and these 10 tracks follow this to the letter. For those familiar with the Trees’ late period this will sound very pleasant indeed, and the playing on these tracks is well up to scratch.
Songs like Ash Gray Sunday, Revelator and the title track are epic rabble-rousers, great big slabs of hard riffs married to catchy choruses that truly deserve a wider audience. Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age was playing live with them at the time, and his influence is audible on the haunting Black Rose Way and later on the bouncy Anita Grey. They are well capable of slowing it down also – Crawl Space lurks and sulks with intent over Barrett Martin’s tribal drumbeat, while Reflections is a wistful lament aided by acoustic guitar from REM’s Peter Buck. One criticism is that this collection of tracks lacks the inventive production of their Dust album, and therefore can sound like there is lack of variety here.
It’s interesting to hear Mark Lanegan’s vocals on this material, where his voice hasn’t quite reached the portentous growl of late but has more vulnerability shot through its dark, rasping larynx, with the odd foray into higher registers. For the band at their very peak, I recommend checking out Sweet Oblivion or Dust. But this is the next best thing and a quality way to close the Screaming Trees chapter. One to play loud.