“The more you think, the more you stink,” Neil Young and Crazy Horse producer David Briggs used to say, by way of explaining the way they went about crafting the band’s rough-edged form of intoxicating garage thrash. The principle was simple: The Horse’s heyday was during the era of grandiose prog and hard rock, but Young and Briggs achieved more transcendence than most of their contemporaries by sticking to a simple formula and never letting it get watered down by excessive overdubs or fancy production values.
I’m not sure if British doom metallers Bong have ever used that exact motto (and they sure sound ornate when compared to Crazy Horse), but there is a feeling on the ironically titled Stoner Rock that this band knows what it does best and has decided to run with it as far as possible.
Two of the genre’s founding fathers, Earth and Sunn O))), may have decided to elaborate on their heavy riffage by adding new textures, style or even by bending it to fit other musical varieties, but Bong is having none of it. For the duration of two monolithic, impenetrable tracks, it churns out a stream of repetitive, slow-burning riffs that straddle an omnipresent rhythmic base of plodding drums and fuzzed-out bass. It’s so boneheaded, so single-minded that it works when all reason suggests it shouldn’t. Do we really need another album of sloth-paced doom metal? Do we really need it to last for more than an hour over only two tracks? You wouldn’t think so, but Stoner Rock is pure sonic bliss, the kind of ear assault that, like the most brutal noise or most stately minimalism, burrows its way into the soul simply because it will not be moved. Put simply, there’s power in stubborness.
I’m aware this is starting to sound a bit like doom OCD, or the kind of elitism black metal fans have recently been accused of. There’s no doubting that some of the best music of the last few years has been crafted by bands and artists willing to twist doom’s fundamentals into fresh and invigorating new mutations, from Sunn O))) and its offshoots’ avant-garde genre-bending theatricality to Om’s cosmic spirituality, via Black Boned Angel’s hour-long meditation on the First World War on Verdun, Orthodox’s bizarre jazz inflections and Khanate’s brutal destructivism. All of the above have pride of place in my album collection, but I refuse to believe that Bong’s dogged pounding is in some way less worthy. Like Moss’ colossal Cthonic Rites, Stoner Rock gains power from repetition.
Yet listen closely and this is more than a brain-pounder. Bong’s guitars don’t just repeat themselves; they positively swirl, like whirlpools bursting out of Charybdis’ demonic maw. Beneath the fuzz and drone, a lone axe peals out a more majestic, open-ended solo, à la Manuel Göttsching, imbuing both “Polaris” and “Out of the Aeons,” Stoner Rock’s interchangeable slabs of sonic magma, with an energy bordering on the cosmic.
Even the somewhat comical spoken-word incantations can’t detract from this music’s hypnotic beauty. To listen to Stoner Rock at full volume is to lapse into a blissful trance where the world slides away to be replaced by fuzz, distortion and that sole guitar probing for the skies.