Rainbows Are Free – Head Pains

Label: Argonauta Records
Release date:
29 November 2019

In a review of the band, Classic Rock Magazine once said that Rainbows Are Free are “from somewhere in Oklahoma. The part of Oklahoma that has UFO cults, bathtub acid, wizard robes, custom vans and amplifiers the size of refrigerators.” To be a little more specific, that “somewhere” is Norman, Oklahoma, a town sadly lacking in the UFO and wizard department, just south of Oklahoma City and smack dab in the middle of tornado alley. Founded in 2007, the Oklahoman quintet found their inspiration from doom and stoner metal greats such as Black Sabbath, Sleep, Deep Purple, and Judas Priest. Combining these influences with their own personal flair, the group eventually settled on self-proclaiming themselves as a combination of Heavy Psych, Proto Metal, Stoner Rock, Doom, and Prog-psych.

Starting with their eponymous EP in 2008, Rainbows Are Free took a bold step forward with sludgy guitar riffs, a muttering bassline, rhythms decided by the clash of cymbals, and the scratching warble of vocalist Brandon Kistler, creating a sound that lay somewhere between Black Label Society and Steppenwolf. Two years later brought their successful first full-length album, Believers in Medicine, where the band upped the tempo and added a little fire for some tracks while remaining loyal to the echoing psychedelic doom sound they’ve blended on others. More of the same was to be found in 2014’s Waves Ahead of the Ocean, but that certainly isn’t a bad thing. With age comes experience, and the powerful more metal-influenced licks backing Kistler’s howling vocals show that droning fuzz isn’t the only thing that Rainbows Are Free can do, and do well. This year marks the release of their third and best album yet, Head Pains.

The Sound Inside opens the album with almost tribal pounding of the drums and a lazy synth, Kistler’s groaning vocals practically channeling the late Chris Cornell. Indeed, the track itself feels like the underappreciated bonus after five minutes of silence on an old Soundgarden album, droning guitars contrasted with Kistler’s low and measured screams. Still processing the slow fade out, Electricity On Wax stumbles in, the line between doom and psychedelia perfectly blurred into a proper jam you don’t know whether to headbang or rock aimlessly to. Whatever you do, don’t stay still or else you’ll miss it, the rhythm lost in the end as the track is played out with a solo backed by Kistler’s chilling oohs and aahs. Slowly rising from the quiet, a low and quick beat is started by the guitars to open Shapeshifter, the background music to a modern black magic ritual. The peace and, frankly, shifting beat is broken only by a desperate plea from the guitars that eventually erupts into a sludgy, fuzzy, altogether messy sound, Kistler’s aching cry in the background bringing the whole thing together into its final and powerful conclusion. With no time to recover, Covered In Dawn begins with a quick clapping that is soon aided by a bass in the same rhythm, and again aided by a nearly overshadowing guitar, a single cymbal clash quieting the beat for just a moment before the whole thing changes again. The beat is hard to find, always moving, always keeping the listener on their toes, seemingly never satisfied until the chorus finds its way back in, a few seconds of recognizable peace before either the drums, the guitars, or Kistler’s vocals themselves move to bigger and better things.

The midway point of the album is marked with the two-for-one deal Lady of the Woods / Psychonaut, a two-part track with a story to tell. It begins with a folksy guitar over the hum of a synth before pulling back the curtain to let Kistler take the mic for an emotional ballad, his voice clearly heard over carefully restrained guitars, aching to let the rock run free. Halfway through, all goes quiet to listen for the coming stampede, a complex drum beat and a rising moan from Kistler signaling the change from one song to another. Now back to what we have become used to–or thought we did–the band proves that they truly are a perfect blend of doom, psychedelic, stoner rock, and yes, even prog, the latter half of this track a swirling and all-encompassing reverie that prefers to not be defined but merely appreciated as the mastery it is. Following this, Nile Song is a perhaps welcome change for some, easy to digest and quick to finish, a more standard rock song with a focus on a clear solo, only tinges of doom and psychedelic elements present. Having already proven their point earlier on, A Penny’s Worth continues the classic rock feel, heavy guitar riffs and Kistler’s half-whining, half-screaming vocals waking up whatever listeners foolishly fell asleep. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album, due in part to having a more consistent beat than others, making headbanging not just a suggestion but a requirement. The final track, Eunice, brings back the folksy sound Lady of the Woods offered, a humming choir and the tinkling of a tiny bell breaking the monotony of an acoustic guitar rocking in someone’s lap. Like a medieval lullaby or a tune the fey folk play to lure children to the forest, this track is a beautiful albeit disarmingly soft ending to the unique and diverse album Rainbows Are Free have graciously given us.

Hard yet soft, powerful yet gentle, clear yet sludgy, Rainbows Are Free have a genuine sound strictly their own that successfully brings a little bit of something for everyone. With each album, they have tweaked and improved their song-writing and composition, creating music that would feel just as good alone in your room through old headphones or dancing in the mud at a sold-out festival show. Perhaps one day, the latter can be your reality. It cannot be stressed enough, however: if you are looking for one particular sound and don’t like your genres mixing, steer clear, and maybe also get with the times. Rainbows Are Free definitely have, and if you don’t start opening your mind, they’ll leave you in the dust.

Line up:

  • Brandon Kistler – Vocals
  • Richie Tarver – Lead Guitar, synth, backup vocals
  • Joey Powell – Guitars
  • Jason Smith – Bass, piano
  • Bobby Onspaugh – Drums, percussion
Rainbows Are Free
  1. The Sound Inside
  2. Electricity On Wax
  3. Shapeshifter
  4. Covered In Dawn
  5. Lady of the Woods / Psychonaut
  6. Nile Song
  7. A Penny’s Worth
  8. Eunice