Bongzilla’s fifth album comes with an interesting set of curveballs, being their first full-length release since 2005’s Amerijuanican as well as their first to be recorded as a trio. However, very little has changed about the Wisconsinites’ vision in the sixteen years they’ve been away. As evidenced by an appropriately dumb but endearing title like Weedsconsin (Heavy Psych Sounds), the Sweet Leaf remains the focal point of their aesthetic and their Stoner-Sludge sound is as potent as ever.
Sleep may be the band most aligned with Stoner Doom Metal culture and sounds in history, but now there is a beer directly inspired by the band, both in its flavor and distinctive artwork. “Hopsmoker” Beer by Widowmaker Brewing of Braintree, on Massachucets’s south shore, has brewed a batch of Pale Ale with the feel and flavor that fans of the Church of Matt Pike will rip off their sweaty shirts off for and bow down to! The can even features unique Weedians and a logo font on the can resembling the Dopesmoker album logotype! There were selling deluxe packs initially with a 4-pack, rolling paper, and other merch but it sold-out quickly. Continue reading →
Chalk it up to me partaking more in the reefer these days and revisiting professional wrestling as a hobby again, but I feel like I took a chair shot to the back of the skull. Why am I feeling discombobulated? Have you tried listening to Blood Incantation‘s Hidden History of the Human Race (Dark Descent)? No? Then why don’t you go to your nearest highway and attempt to run across during rush hour traffic? Best of luck.Continue reading →
I’d love to travel back in time and run into a much slimmer and naïve high school version of myself and let him know that we screwed the pooch and elected an asshole as president (worse than Bush) and that a member of Anthrax would collaborate with some of the dudes in Fall Out Boy. Then I’d leave him alone because all of that would likely give him some sort of brain aneurysm. But hey it’s 2019 and here’s The Damned Things‘ sophomore effort, High Crimes (Nuclear Blast).Continue reading →
In one of the great turns in recent rock history, 1970s rock masters Toto have covered Weezer’s ‘Hash Pipe’. This follows Weezer’s covers of Toto classics ‘Africa’ and ‘Rosanna’. You can stream and buy the track right now!Continue reading →
Sleep has been teasing a new release for some time and will release a new album today, 4/20 for all their bud loving fans. Sciences will supposedly drop today at the stroke of 12 midnight and you can say you lived to see Sleep follow up their album Jerusalem, which came out 19 years ago. Third Man Records (owned by Jack White) will release the album recorded at God City Studios with Kurt Ballou (High On Fire, Converge). Continue reading →
If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last several months, you know I’m a recent Denver transplant who sings toe-curling praises about this mountain town’s Metal scene.
Here, long-drawn, Mary Jane-inspired riffs reverberate out past the vast expanses of breathtaking natural aesthetics, and leave a heavy-handed sonic impression on scenes across the nation.
And if you’re a fan of the best in “underground” Doom-driven Metal, you’ve likely heard of locals Primitive Man, In the Company of Serpents, and Khemmis.
Now, add to this list Smolder & Burn, a band whose hot and heavy, stony Sludge is driven by guitarists Jess Ellis’ and Pat Devlin’s hearty riffs, vocalist Chris Chango’s throaty vox, and bassist Chad Roth’s and drummer Marc Brooks’ captious low-end, a pointed mélange with solid grooves and a searing after burn.
“I had been wanting to start a side project for a while away from my other band (Chingaso), where I just focused on vocals and not on both vocals and guitar,” said Smolder & Burn vocalist Chris Chango of the band’s formation. “I was at my friend Benny’s house for a BBQ, and he was looking to get back on the scene after a long hiatus. He introduced me to [Smolder & Burn drummer] Marc Brooks. We knew of each other, but we didn’t exactly know each other, so I was asked if I knew of any other musicians that might want to get in on the action—I called [guitarist] Pat [Devlin] and [bassist] Chad [Roth]. We had a few rehearsals that went well, then some things came up, and Benny dropped out. I asked [guitarist] Jess [Ellis] to come in, and that’s when things got kicked into overdrive.”
Now, fourteen months later, Smolder & Burn is set to release their début EP, a four-song flex of desert Rock-infused Doom—think of a ballsier Queens of the Stone Age with bigger beards and way more booze.
The tracks are capped by Chris Chango’s clean vocal croon, a distinctive stamp that characterizes the band’s already inventive tunes.
“[Chango’s vocals] are what really got me psyched about this band,” said Devlin. “I listen to a lot of music, and I’m of the opinion that the voice should be used as another instrument. I’m not knocking guttural stuff at all—I’m a fan! But I want to make music with multiple layers, and having clean vocals from the get-go is much better then to trying to introduce them later.”
“I always wanted and preferred more of a singer [too],” added bassist Chad Roth.
“When I was writing the lyrics for the first songs we came up with, I was going to try and be a more guttural with the vocals, but the strange thing is because of the actual low tuning we’re in, [I was forced] to go higher in range in order to hit the notes being played. People heard it, and they liked it, so it just kind of worked its way into what it is,” said Chango.
Smolder & Burn recorded the EP at the Crash Pad, a recording studio over in suburban Denver, where they tapped engineer Bart McCrorey to capture their big sound over a two-day live recording session, the result of which is an impressive debut from one of Denver’s most impressive new bands.
What kind of stuff do you guys talk about in your songs?
“I’m a straight-up fuckin’ nerd, so I’m really influenced by Sci-Fi and comic books—Silver Surfer is one of my top five favorites,” Chango said. “So a lot of the stuff I write is pretty much about traveling the universe, loneliness, isolation, lost love, uneasiness in regards to never truly knowing who you are or why you’re here.”
What do you think makes the Denver music scene tight and different from that of other cities?
“There’s a lot of real motherfuckers here,” Devlin said. “People in this music community can sense bullshit a mile away. Granted, there’s a few assholes everywhere, but overall this place rules.”
Adds guitarist Jess Ellis, “I agree that this is one of the strongest, tightest scenes I have ever encountered. I believe what sets us apart is the fact that we are pretty isolated here. I believe that holds people to be accountable and respectful of each other, or you’ll get your ass run out. Most the bands in this city, regardless of genre, are incredibly supportive of each other.”
Fun stuff: Who are some bands you’d love to tour with?
“I will play anywhere, anytime, with any band. But I’d personally like to tour with The Sword, Lo-Pan, Clutch, Fu Manchu, Cake, Baroness, and C.O.C.,” Devlin said.
“If we’re talking dream tour, I’d give my left nut to play with Neurosis, Pelican, or be the opening act for KISS in 1976 on the Destroyer tour,” Chango added.
Speaking of touring, do you have any plans to play shows outside of the city?
“Nothing as of yet,” Devlin said. “But I’ve been planting a seed with some of the bands like [Denver locals] Cult of The Lost Cause and The Worth about doing some Midwest shows together, just to show everyone the musical diversity Denver has.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
“I’m honestly blown away and very thankful for the reception that we have received as a ‘young’ band. It always makes me jazzed when a friend’s band who I respect and really dig asks us to play a show [with them],” Devlin said. “And the fact that you dig us enough to give us a chance in your magazine— we are extremely lucky guys!”
Those of us stationed in Denver are lucky as well—were able to see the band live Friday, May 6th, over at the Three Kings Tavern. This CD-release show for the band also features fellow Doom-dealers In The Company of Serpents, Valiomierda, and Aeraco. It all kicks off at 8:00 p.m., and copies of the Smolder & Burn EP will be available for purchase. You’ll also be able to download the mixed and mastered version of EP over at Smolderandburn.bandcamp.com.
Saturday we kick things off with Beelzebong, who give us the swamp soaked heavy slur of stoner doom riffs we’ve been so craving. These guys know how to his the sweet spot of heavy and oppressive, yet hypnotic. They turn the crowd in front of the Desert stage into a sea of bobbing heads, a sight that makes for great start to the day.
Monomyth, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
Since we get some rare sunshine in the beginning of October, we decide to recover from last night’s first day in the brittle warmth of the autumn sun in the outside seating area, and catch up with some friends.
Monomyth, these masters of the hypnotic cadence are not new for me but a lot of people were happily surprised by their prowess. Their gigs tend to sound like one long jam, and amazingly don’t get boring while they weave on and on in an almost circular way, pulling you deeper into the trance-like state their music conveys. While these guys make some really spacey psychrock, the usually omnipresent guitar noodling is quite minimal and has a more rhythmic notion with this band, repeating and embroidering on the same pattern, building layers and layers of spacey goodness.
After the enjoyable Monomyth set we catch a quick glimpse upstairs in the Canyon stage of Vandal X, these Belgian noise rockers pick up the tempo and shake us awake. Distinctly punky, yet a little heavier and stranger than punk, these guys kick you straight in the teeth. Having apparently inspired such bands as Raketkanon according to the booklet these forefathers of the no-nonsense, bash your head into the wall kind of noise rock are living up to their title. Noise Noise Noise, indeed.
Greenleaf, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
After the rude awakening with Vandal X we go downstairs to see Greenleaf. The moment the band starts the grove is amazing, the thick heaviness is there, and everything sounds incredible, if a bit stripped down to make room for what we assume is going to be vocal driven Stoner. Pinching just a little too much I get the distinct feeling the vocalist is trying to sing a way that doesn’t fit him naturally, and the rest of the music just isn’t intricate enough to be able to ignore a less than impeccable vocal performance.
Thankfully the guys from Mars Red Sky are there to cheer me right up again, with their 70s infused doom. Their groove is one of the best and most catchy of the festival. In a genre often drowned in fuzz and distortion the use of oftentimes clean bass lines is refreshing and really hitting that spot. Soaring guitar lines coupled with remarkably light vocals with just enough echo to make their music sounds quite otherworldly. The contrast of heavy and light, floating and sinking make this band a fascinating experience well worth listening to.
Orange Goblin by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
Now I have the hard task of writing a review of Orange Goblin… OrangeGoblin is one of the heavyweights in the genre, and seeing them live is nothing short of spectacular. They clearly have that oh so British touch in their approach to metal that takes a lot of influence from punk and just a general slow burning anger at the world no other nationality has quite mastered, maybe it’s the weather. The riled up crowd starts milling in front of the stage in an enormous moshpit that doesn’t let up until the set is over.
To kill the time before Earth start and not just hang around chatting to the many wonderful people this fest attracts, we go catch a few songs by Causa sui. The trippy background projections are pretty cool, but sadly the band evoke a distinct feeling of trying too hard to fit into the psychrock box. The whole thing feels a bit formulaic, and instead of expressing the joy of letting a trip come over you as good psych does, they just leave me with a vague sense of emptiness.
Earth, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
Earth have the honor of headlining today, and I’m quite interested to see how they do. The band is known for it’s super slow and heavy laid back instrumental drone, and while this is in itself wonderful music, it’s something that is really hard to get into when you’ve been on your feet all day and have just seen Orange Goblin destroy the Desert stage with a vengeance. This is a band you definitely need a chair and a good dose of substances for to really get into, but for me, at that time of the day, they just were a bit too slow in their heavy. About midway through, the after party starts, at which we get a second dose of Orange Goblin madness, but this time behind the dj set.
Tangled Horns, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
Sunday, lazy Sunday. We start things of with a local Belgian band who’ve clearly not lost any steam over the weekend. Tangled Horns pretty much tangle us in their horns. Fast paced with a franctic frontman who will climb anything makes for a great show. There is a definite raunchy twist in the stoner these guys make, that does definitely remind of 90’s grunge and even a punky atmosphere. Definitely a band worth catching live.
Next we keep the pace up just as high, with the party band extraordinaire Valient Thor. They are one of the few bands on the bill to really get people moving and have banter between songs. As it is a time-honored tradition in the stoner and doom scene to stare at your shoes and mumble thank you, it is refreshing to hear a man remind us we’re all really descendant from space dust in a hilarious way before linking it to the next song and setting off another bout of frantic, happy party punk. These guys would do well at any festival.
Ufomamut, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
After grabbing dinner at one of the many food carts, we go watch Ufomammut. Over the last few years this group has made a reputation for being transcendent and while I see why people love them and where this reputation comes from somehow it just doesn’t hit that special place that makes the experience more than just music for me personally. They still were good but I didn’t see the magic others clearly see in them.
Sometimes there are bands that do everything right and still miss something, and just don’t work. Usually this is personal taste thing and hard to put your finger on, but with Bongzilla I feel I know exactly what was missing for me. These guys make standard sludge, and they do it well, but it’s all a little too clean. Sludge for me needs to be dirty and redneck and Louisiana swamp infested. It needs to feel wild and a little dangerous, heavy and sticky like the sweat is running down your back into your asscrack and the mosquitoes are eating you alive. Sadly this little bit of swamp of dirt and grit is exactly what was missing with Bongzilla.
Child, by Susanne A. Maathuis Photogaphy
My disappointed mood was quickly turned when friends I’d made urged me to stay downstairs and skip Fatso Jetson in favor of the Australian band Child. We got treated to a three-piece making some of the heaviest blues I’ve heard in ages, with a groove that was utterly unparalleled by any band on the bill, and most of all a voice that will melt the polar icecaps. The remarkably heavy main riffs get broken up by beautifully soulful blues guitar lines creating a refreshing contrast.
To conclude our stay in Antwerp I use the last of our coins to buy a few of the excellent cocktails at the little cocktail stand outside, and head upstairs for the final after party, not getting home until five in the morning, exhausted, charmed and satisfied. Until next time, Desertfest Belgium.
Matriarch from left to right: guitarist J. Hartnett, drummer Tyler McKinney, and guitarist/vocalist Austin Wilson. Photo credit Travis Heacock
“The next song we’re working on is about 45-minutes long,” confesses Matriarch guitarist J. Hartnett. The declaration isn’t in the very least surprising: the weed-fueled basement jam sesh that is Matriarch’s debut EP, Magnumus: The 44th Scribe and Lorde of the Hallucinauts, is evidence this Doom-dealing, Denver-based outfit is it in for the long haul.
To the initiated in underground music, it’s well-known Denver is a hotbed for Doom. As the hometown of punishing acts like Primitive Man, In The Company of Serpents, and Khemmis, Denver’s arid expanse can withstand many-a rumbling low-end. And now, with Matriarch a part of the low-and-slow fold, it could be said the Denver Doom thing is truly a scene.
“It just came together,” Hartnett says of the band’s formation. “It just coalesced into what it is, although [Matriarch’s music] started a lot faster and more mid tempo. Honestly, we just kept smoking weed and slowing it way down.”
“We were actually going to write a soundtrack to the arm-wrestling movie, Over the Top, ” Matriarch guitarist and vocalist Austin Wilson chimes.
“Like how Dark Side of the Moon syncs up with the Wizard of Oz,” Hartnett says. “We were going to call it Lincoln Hawk, which was Stallone’s name in the movie—we make a lot of decisions that are marijuana based.”
It’s interesting to me that there are so many Doom Metal bands coming out of Denver—do you think it’s because weed is legal that everyone plays so slow?
“Maybe!” Matriarch Drummer Tyler McKinney exclaims. “But I think all of the Doom bands in Denver smoked weed way before it became legal.”
“The correlation or causation of it—it’s a good one,” Hartnett muses. “I don’t think it helps with the formation of bands, but it definitely helps with the attendance to a show.”
“Marijuana is not a suggestion—it’s a requirement to play or watch Doom,” Wilson says.
The debut Matriarch EP was released in April—
“on 4/20 at 4:20 pm—it’s so stupid,” Hartnett laughs.
Well, it only has two songs, and it’s 44-minutes long: How do you know when a Matriarch song is “done?”
“It takes a long time to get through writing a song,” McKinney explains. “We’ve even recorded drums for a song we’re in the middle of still writing.”
“Honestly, it takes us about eight months to get through a song,” Hartnett adds.
Are you guys “Tone Lords?”
“It’s more fun for us to just collect stuff and see what happens,” Wilson says.
“We like having the big presentation of it—the volume of it,” adds Hartnett.
Why do you do Doom?
“Well, we definitely make music for ourselves,” McKinney says.
“Yes, as cliché as it is, we wanted to do this for ourselves, whatever you want to call it,” says Wilson.
“And everyone in Matriarch has a really high standard; we don’t want to suck when we play out and it’s hard to sustain this minimal thing we do,” Hartnett admits. “But our biggest goal in playing this music is to have our own sound and to not sound like anyone else—even within the Denver or Doom scene, we want to have our own place…I do think we’ve sonically found our little niche.”
Matriarch guitarist Jake Hartnett. Photo credit by Travis Heacock
This month’s Under the Surface has us traveling from the familiar trappings of Manchester, New Hampshire all the way to London, Scandinavia and the heart of Southeast Asia. The mission as always is the pursuit of the latest and greatest in unsigned or undiscovered heavy music.
I start not too far from home, with New Hampshire’s At the Heart of It. The challenge, particularly in the New England area, is finding a way to stand out in a crowded hardcore scene. You can’t swing a dead cat in Boston without hitting 14 bands cannibalizing each other’s sound. With their self-titled EP, At the Heart of It found a way to stand out. And the here’s the catch what helps separate them is not their aggression, but the more quiet moments like in ‘Create/Sustain’ and ‘This World Has Teeth.’ The vocals are so pained that I just want to buy the band a cup of coffee and tell them that things will get better soon. But not too soon, I’m really digging this sound. 8.0/10
Next is Abodean Skye and their new LP Echoes of an Astral Empire. This UK trio are the type of band that gladly remind you that it’s hip to be square as proven by singing that would make Geoff Tate, soaring melodies and keyboard runs that wouldn’t feel out of place in a vintage Final Fantasy game. Then you have song titles like ‘Battle of Tears’ and ‘Return of the Fleet.” And that kind of nerd cred isn’t a knock, either. Echoes is a very fun album, particularly if you have a sweet tooth for histrionics and bands like the underrated Cellador.
Sure at 55 minutes it can feel a bit lengthy, but it seems like epic was the MO here. And while on the subject of epic, I would’ve liked the production to have a little more pop to it. The mix here is serviceable, but the compositions could’ve used a little more energy to them. It’s a quest worth venturing. 7.0/10
Keeping with that same nerd enthusiasm is Helsinki, Finland’s Tulitera. Seriously, that cover art is probably the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen and I collect Batman comics. But this instrumental collective is so much more than their art suggests. Move past Tulikaste’s crude sword illustrations and you will find a very sophisticated and ambitious sound. Fans of Tesseract will feel right at home with songs like ‘Voidborn’ and ‘Firedew’ has sweeping synths that sound like something that Vangelis forgot to use in Blade Runner. And while ‘Firedew’ is one the album’s highlights it illustrates that much like Abodean Skye, Tulitera let the songs run for a little longer than expected. Case in point, ‘Percolator’ feels less like an introduction and more like 3 minutes of nothing.
And I can already hear you shouting “but Hans, this progressive metal, it’s supposed to have longer songs.” Yes and no. If the riffs are there then go for that 14 minute Between the Buried and Me musical freakout. If not, then trim it and get your point across a lot faster. But given that this is a debut LP it’s a flaw that can be overlooked. 8.0/10
And since we’re on the subject of longer songs why not talk about the Burning Water split EP between Philipino sludge acts Death After Birth and Surrogate Prey. How do I put this? One of these bands has a promising future and other does not. I take it they haven’t been around long, but Death After Birth really shit the bed with their half of the recording. They slog by checking off all the traditional doom and sludge checkboxes with a sound that only can be described as basement quality. It’s like Crowbar, but without the riffs or Kirk Windstein or the great guitar tone. However, Surrogate Prey sound like they know a thing or two about playing low and slow. ‘Crevianitus’ is soul crushingly heavy and memorable and ‘Banquet of the Beasts’ has a breakdown the size of Alaska. Surrogate Prey save the day here. 6.0/10
And to wrap things up we have another split EP, Irk | Wren, featuring the British talents of Irk and Wren respectively. Irk storms out of the gate with a brand of noise highly reminiscent of fellow Brits, Fudge Tunnel and a vocal delivery that sounds like Jonathan Davis on Quaaludes. And tracks like ‘You Sound Like my Ex-Wife’ and ‘Cibo Per Gattini’ are some of the rare and very awesome instances where the bass is more prominent than the guitar. As good as Irk is, Wren steal the show with some of the heaviest post-metal goodness since Isis. If you’re still heartbroken over their breakup then Wren are more than willing to fill in that blank space in your life. Forget an EP, after listening to the atom smashing closer that is ‘An Approach’ I need a double LP. 9.0/10