The debut album from New York-via-Florida outfit the Ukiah Drag fronts like a menacing rock record. There’s the ostentatious title — In the Reaper’s Quarters — and the foreboding “Intro” track, but the Ukiah Drag don’t bludgeon or assault the listener like most self-consciously “heavy” rock music. The guitar leads aren’t blistering; they’re seething. In the Reaper’s Quarters unfurls insidiously, stirring a murky atmosphere of dread in slow, deliberate turns. The reaper isn’t home, but while tensely anticipating its return, the room begins to look comfortable — and it’s easy to settle in.
Though they released a tape in 2013 on Ascetic House, home to the self-proclaimed purveyors of the “New American Heavy Underground” in Destruction Unit, the Ukiah Drag’s Tampa roots provide better reference points. Rameriez’s underrated 2012 album with American Snakeskin, Turquoise for Hello, traversed unnerving territory similar to the Ukiah Drag. Meanwhile, Rameriez’s old peers in Diet Cokeheads and Neon Blud built their own dense, imposing pillars of sound. On In the Reaper’s Quarters, the Ukiah Drag delivers on the promise of that regional scene.
Evoking Giant Sand and Charlie Pickett, “Night of Immaculacy” uses locomotive percussion and droning guitar to conjure vast, sweeping plains. Rameriez muses about hate and dues-paying as the band thumps out a static motif for over eight minutes. His vocals — a southern-fried, woozy drawl that emerges sideways from his parched lips — enhance the eerie desert atmosphere. “Pull you down,” he croaks on “Her Royal Grip.” Then, louder, “Goin’ nowhere but down!” and the players descend, lumbering from a plateau towards the dusty gorge below.
The Ukiah Drag paints these scenes in slow-motion, stretching out passages fraught with impending doom for so long that they don’t feel imminent anymore. Eventually, the reaper’s quarters start to feel like home.