It didn't take long for True Widow's dreary, dissociative self-titled debut to earn the Texas threesome a cult following among indie metal fans. Debuts that showcase a distinctive new sound always make for hot topics in the blogosphere, all the more so when that sound comes prepackaged with a clever catchphrase. True Widow calls their menacing brand of guitar rock "stonegaze," which is amusing enough that you can forgive its inaccuracy. Far be it from me to question the trio's stoner bona fides (I can't imagine anyone aside from stoners finding As High as the Highest Heavens and from the Center to the Circumference of the Earth an acceptable album title), but True Widow doesn't indulge in the acid-rock mindfuckery characteristic of stoner metal acts like Kyuss and Monster Magnet. And while singer-guitarist Dan Phillips is nothing if not hypnotic, his style isn't nearly as lush or intricate as what you'd hear on Nowhere or Loveless. That kind of whirl and shimmer would only detract from True Widow's heavy-lidded drone.
Rather, songs like "NH" and "Blooden Horse" suggest slowcore by way of doom metal, like the Red House Painters covering Witchcraft for a Halloween gig. When he sustains notes, Phillips even sounds a little like Mark Kozelek. Sometimes, as on the mesmerizing "Skull Eyes," he shares vocal duties with bassist Nicole Estill; her vocals float easily over the band's primordial murk, where Phillips's are more liable to blend into it, which means that the songs where both singers contribute are the most impressive to hear. While neither vocalist has much range, they harmonize exceptionally well, and occasionally stumble on an effectively bewitching melody—nothing like a hook, mind you, but enough tunefulness to keep things from getting too drab. Given time to develop their rapport and their melodic sensibility, this could be doom metal's answer to the xx.
But even for a band that specializes in making gray-scaled musical monoliths, True Widow could benefit from the occasional pop of color. The relatively uptempo "Night Witches" and the atmospheric closer "Doomseer" are the only two tracks to break up the album's rigorously observed funk. Once you've heard each singer take a turn at the mic, you shouldn't be expecting too many surprises. Nothing on this album hooks quite like True Widow's darkly romantic highlights (check out "Duelist" or "Bleeder" if you want to hear True Widow's gothic revision of the '90s alt-rock template); instead, all but a few of the tracks here sound like variations on that album's "Sunday Driver." It might be the case that this heavier follow-up will solidify the band's following in the metal scene, in which case the album's sonic retrenchment would be a product of strategy and not of exhaustion. Still, if it's "stonegaze" you're craving, who else are you going to get it from?