Despite being hailed as an epicentre of all things alternative, Seattle does have a subtler hard rock undercurrent, mainly thanks to Duff McKagan who became a massive figure on the city’s punk circuit before moving down the coast and blowing up with Guns N’ Roses. Besides Loaded, one of the projects he’s been linked to (although not anymore since G’N’R reunited) is Walking Papers, a band specializing in modernized bluesy hard rock with a dark, rumbling twist. Their third record, The Light Below, demonstrates this alluring niche to a tee, a collaboration of founding members Jeff Angell and Barrett Martin with the likes of Angell’s Missionary Position bandmate Benjamin Anderson, saxophonist Gregor Lothian and Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots chipping in as well.
Starting off the record is the slow, sensuous groover “The Value Of Zero”, setting the record’s tone and depth in place in the midst of its hypnotic abyss. “What Did You Expect?” dives further into Walking Papers’ blues side with its gritty, suspenseful guitar line, a component of the track that becomes even more key in the “When The Levee Breaks”-esque “Divine Intervention”. “Stood Up at the Gates of Heaven” runs on a dynamic parallel to “Zero” albeit sounding more like a sonic portrait of chilly isolation than a solitary narcotic crawl. “Going Nowhere” falls on the heavy side of deep, its soulful bottomlessness countered by the distorted, dangerous edge of “Creation Reproduction and Death” right after as a smooth contrast.
“Money Isn’t Everything” isn’t too far off the same relaxed blues-rock path as previous songs; what differs it from said tracks is the subtle ghost-note driven drum beat colouring the background more than any of the guitar elements that hang like dark clouds out front. “Rich Man’s War” provides more of a departure with its raw groove and light sax track that adds a whole new character to an already interesting track. “Where Did I Go Wrong?” traffics heavily in the old “St. James Infirmary Blues” rickety creep-house vibe, while “The Other Shoe (Reprise)” circles back to “What Did You Expect?” briefly before collapsing into “My Thoughts Are Not My Own”. The cold, frozen-hearted vibe of “Thoughts” thaws off for the closer “California (One More Phone Call)”, a revisit to the church-y vibe of “Nowhere” with a far drearier bent and a great note to conclude the expertly calculated flow of songs and the dynamics that define them on.
The Light Below can be looked at in a number of ways; one is it’s a whole album of more or less the same thing without much deviation. The other is that it fits and rolls out of a set niche very well and that venturing too far out of the mold is neither required nor desired; you pick what suits and run with it. Then there’s the third perspective, not concretely objective of course, but definitely fair: While there is a rock-solid foundation that serves as the basis for most of the songs on the record, there is more variety from track to track than some would give credit for, no matter how subtle or moderate it may be. Everything in music depends on careful balances; in this instance jumping sharply from one extreme to the next would obliterate any potential flow between songs and demonstrates a lack of creative direction; conversely making one song indistinguishable from the next is a road block to progress and demonstrates a lack of creativity. Walking Papers understands this, and other artistic tricks and nuances well by all indication, and for this reason among others their product is thoroughly, and reliably enjoyable.