Written by Kep
Stone Healer – Conquistador
Metal from North Carolina, USA
Releasing April 30, independent/self-release
Let’s talk about labeling and subgenres, shall we? I love the process of listening and assigning labels to bands, and lots of metalheads are like me in that regard. Pretty much every group we hear can be classified into a category (or two or three) through some careful listening and attention to detail. The sheer breadth of stylistic diversity in metal is probably my favorite aspect of it, and digging deep into the little elements of new outfits is one of my usual pastimes. That being said, it’s rare, but sometimes a band comes along and stumps my ability to classify them. Stone Healer is one of those bands.
I’m absolutely floored by their debut LP, Conquistador. This is art that defies labeling by virtue of its chameleon-like ability to shift from style to style flawlessly. It’s not that they don’t have obvious influences and parallels; they absolutely do. It’s just that there are so damn many of them, and somehow Stone Healer is able to make it all work together with remarkable coherence. The album is equal parts rock, grunge, death, and black metal, with a plethora of wonderful earworm melodies and hooks and an inherent heart of emotion and soul. The songwriting is transcendent and the lyrical content is meaningful, personal, and profoundly affecting.
Before I dive too deep into the details, let’s cover some particulars. Stone Healer is the North Carolina-based two-man project of brothers Dave (guitar, bass, vocals) and Matt (drums) Kaminsky, and Conquistador is their second overall release, after the 2015 EP He Who Rides Immolated Horses. They formed the group in 2015 after the end of their previous band, Autolatry, a black metal outfit out of Connecticut (whose music was pretty great, too, by the way!). This is an independent passion project, with the brothers handling every aspect of music creation from songwriting all the way through to mixing and mastering. While both are veterans of the music industry, Dave has an impressive list of past production credits, including recording and mixing last year’s stellar Fires in the Distance record.
Okay, back to the music. I’m flat out astonished by how many sounds the Kaminsky brothers are able to combine into this one glorious package. I could make an unbelievably wide-ranging list of the various bands they channel and remind me of at different points—as a matter of fact, why the hell not? Let’s get listy:
- Blue Öyster Cult
- Der Weg einer Freiheit
- Alice in Chains
- Between the Buried and Me
- Paradise Lost
Just look at that mishmash. Stone Healer has no business making all of that make sense together, and yet it totally works, and in a way that’s impressive and undeniably catchy. It’s clear to me that the individual performances by the brothers are the biggest reason why it works so well. Matt’s drumming sounds fantastic no matter what style he’s channeling; his classic rock grooves are energetic and make you want to dance, his Jamie St. Merat-esque double-bass work is crisp and driving, his black metal blast beat bedlam is full of fire, and everything in between is equally excellent. Dave mainly uses soulful clean vocals—his voice is delightfully unique, somewhere in between a Layne Staley and a Brett Campbell (Pallbearer)—but he also pushes himself to the limit with forceful harshes as well. His guitar and bass are similarly stellar across the whole record, but I want to especially commend his use of acoustic guitar. It’s unlikely that you’ll hear any metal band this year make use of an acoustic as well as Stone Healer does on this album. Hell, it’s unlikely you’ll find a better example if you go back years.
There are so many outstanding musical moments on Conquistador that it’s hard to even decide which ones to include here in this review. Opener “One Whisper” goes from an uncannily haunting acoustic opening to satisfying full chords and tasty classic rock guitar licks. Next it unveils the greatest cowbell groove since “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, and if it doesn’t make you crack a smile and start bobbing your head, I’m not sure what would. Then, without warning, the song becomes a Krallice-esque black metal detonation of tumultuous blast beats and urgency. There’s also a beautiful acoustic interlude later and a strikingly melodic guitar solo—what I’m saying here is that the song runs the gamut, and this is just the first track.
“Whence Shall I” features a massive hunk of dissonant riffage that’s the meeting point of Ulcerate and Gorguts, along with some truly inspirational lyrical work: “The sun is too hot / but I am too strong / To stop here, keep keeling over / To lay my head to rest“. Centerpiece “Surrender” is the lengthiest track at over 11 minutes, and it opens with energetic chords that briefly channel that typically Spanish flair of quick-strummed guitar; later, there’s a particularly fantastic guitar solo that leads into the Opethiest acoustic passage that ever Opethed outside of Opeth themselves, but somehow also feels a bit grungy. My favorite track is “Until My Will is Gone”, which begins with an extended melancholy passage of vocals over spare guitar, with somber, thoughtful lyrics: “I lay down my arms / My tools, my weapons too / I beg of you, you ghosts of lives passed / Forgive me, forgive me”. Once the full band joins and the song is in full swing, there are passages of blast and tremolo driven madness (“I swear again / My body means nothing / …Let it rot, let it die for all I care”) alternated with some calmer but still intense moments, plus a truly cathartic, expansive melodic riff that leads toward the track’s conclusion.
I really can’t say enough about the emotional journey that the Kaminsky brothers take us on in Stone Healer’s Conquistador, and I could go on for pages about the utter musical excellence and songwriting wizardry that’s on display in the 7 tracks and 51 minutes that make up its runtime. I have nothing negative to say. This is my favorite thing that I’ve listened to yet this year; it’s sincere and emotional, it’s fun as hell to listen to, and I’ve already found that it’s endlessly replayable. Dave and Matt have poured their souls into this project, and in doing so have created an absolute masterwork. Conquistador is not an album for death metal fans, or black metal fans, or anything else. This is an album for fans of music, and you need to listen to it.
Favorite track: Until My Will is Gone