Riff evangelists

Shrinebuilder create a New Testament for the electric church

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The religion is sound, the church is electric, and the four riff evangelists of Shrinebuilder construct the place of worship.
Photo by Chrissy Piper

arts@sfbg.com

MUSIC "I felt pretty much the day Wino called me up that it was a really important, really essential thing." Speaking by phone from Los Angeles, Shrinebuilder bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros makes the founding of his new band seem inevitable, like some sort of astronomical event. "Wino" is the nom de rock preferred by legendary guitarist/vocalist Scott Weinrich, cofounder of a new collaboration between musical luminaries that also includes guitarist/vocalist Scott Kelly and drummer/vocalist Dale Crover.

For fans of a certain kind of slow, heavier-than-lead music called "doom metal," these are all household names. Cisneros played bass in the mythical South Bay trio Sleep (with High on Fire's Matt Pike) before founding drone metallers Om. Wino's is the most impressive pedigree, one defined by stints with Washington, D.C.-area doom pioneers the Obsessed and L.A. cult heroes St. Vitus. Kelly is well-known in the Bay Area for his work with Oakland experimental titans Neurosis. Crover cut his teeth in Seattle, drumming for the Melvins.

The towering reputations and wide-ranging commitments of the musicians involved made creating the first Shrinebuilder album a scheduling nightmare. Rehearsals took place in multiple locations, often with only two members present — those absent participated by swapping riffs over the Internet. Despite these logistical difficulties, Cisneros insists, the process couldn't have been more natural. "The in-person rehearsals really just confirmed the songs that we had going." Confined to only three days of studio time, they nevertheless crafted a self-titled album that exudes a confident coherence across its five lengthy tracks.

Even the lyrics, often a point of contention in other, lesser bands, benefited from this uncanny natural understanding: "Without explaining anything about the song, or the vibe, we just all knew what went next — how to proceed," Cisneros recalls. "We had a common understanding of the lyrical theme between all of us. I'm not sure that's common in bands. We didn't really need to say anything, we just all finished the lyrics as each other would have."

As can be guessed from the band's name, the lyrical theme is one of religion, and construction, and the marriage of the two. Song titles like "Solar Benediction," "Pyramid of the Moon," and "The Architect" exemplify this fascination. More than just singing about worshipers, however, the members of Shrinebuilder are worshipers themselves, crafting a temple of their own design. As Kelly explains in an interview with Decibel magazine, "I think we're just laying more bricks on the foundation that has been laid previously ... it's really an homage to sound, to music, and to its infinite wisdom, you know? The power of it. The religion that is sound. The electric church. All of that. I think that that's been our lives."

The members of Shrinebuilder, then, are the four riff evangelists, and the album, like the New Testament, is a coherent whole that allows significant leeway for the individual tendencies of its creators. Each of the album's five songs is a concatenation of different parts, many of which bear the tell-tale fingerprints of their authors. Wino's bluesy howl makes his sections easy to identify; so too Kelly's muscular, mammoth riffs and Cisneros' syrupy bass lines. The album's most liturgical passage occurs halfway through "Pyramid of the Moon," when an epic, reverberant riff suddenly culminates in haunting, euphonic chanting, which Kelly insists was entirely improvised by Crover and Cisneros in the studio.

Preparations have already begun for another, longer album, one that will involve more rehearsal and more studio time.

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