Screaming Trees – Dust (1996): Review

dust

Produced by George Drakoulias
Label – Sony

Forty miles upstate from Seattle, Ellensberg’s Screaming Trees were the jewel in the grunge scene’s crown before it even began. Signed to a major label long before Nirvana and all the acts that followed, the view was that they were a surefire for major commercial recognition. Having released the critically acclaimed “Sweet Oblivion” in 1992, the tensions and conflicts between the individual band members that occurred during a year long tour led to an immediate hiatus. Having scrapped an album’s worth of recorded material, the band turned to producer and percussionist George Drakoulias and belatedly released “Dust”, a full four years since its predecessor. Given that the band were teetering on the brink of implosion it’s surprising that the collection is both as original and inspired in equal measure. The grunge label was always just a loose musical and geographic association, and “Dust” proved the band’s mix of fluid psychedelic, blues and hard rock were a world away from the angst ridden hardcore sounds of their peers. In addition, the experimental tinges using Eastern instrumentation add a mystical atmosphere that ‘s supported by Mark Lanegan’s lower register croon. Indeed, Lanegan’s voice is a unique instrument in its own right; dark, captivating, and perfectly matched to the intriguing musical backdrop that surrounds him.

screaming

The sitar heavy opener “Halo Of Ashes” brings the perfect balance of a band maturely stepping forward from the confines of their supposed generic expectations. Although rarely heralded, lead guitarist Gary Lee Conner had a grip on all the classic hard rock legacies, and his performance on “All I Know” is as skilful as the searing solo Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready provides on “Dying Days”. The relatively restrained “Sworn And Broken” is an overlooked masterpiece that contains one of Lanegan’s most poignant lyrics of loss and positive resolution, set to tenderly arranged strings and a swirling keyboard solo. Both “Traveler” and “Dime Western” fully shows the psychedelic influence that was prevalent in many of their songs and the well considered closer (“Gospel Plow”) develops from traditional American folk (with added tabla percussion) to a powerful rocker that predates Josh Homme’s Queens Of The Stone Age. Homme would join the band shortly after as rhythm guitarist. It seems a shame that the internal politics that drove the wedge within the band would eventually dissolve them without a further recording than this, their final studio LP, but they went out with far more positives than many from the Seattle scene.

Given the previous instability, friction and personnel battles, “Dust” is beyond all widest hopes, beyond all past suggestion and momentum, and a record of intoxicating achievement.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – Halo Of Ashes (8)
2 – All I Know (8)
3 – Look At You (7)
4 – Dying Days (8)
5 – Make My Mind (7)
6 – Sworn And Broken (9)
7 – Witness (7)
8 – Traveler (7)
9 – Dime Western (7)
10 – Gospel Plow (8)

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