|Updated: 7/02/14 | © 1999 - 2014 Cool Bunny Media | Da Cool Bunny sez 'Spank the Plank, Baby!'|
Music for the stoned generation? Possibly, but Stoner Rock is a generic term used to describe bands as varied as Farflung, Cathedral, Electric Wizard, Fu Manchu, Kyuss and Monster Magnet. The one common factor for all the bands is their love of 70s rock.
The music is heavy but not always metal. It owes its origins to Cream, Black Sabbath and Hawkwind. Sabbath were responsible for much of what would become to be known as heavy metal. Hell, the song Black Sabbath itself is the skeletal blue(s)print for heavy metal. Bands like Pentagram, Trouble. St Vitus, Down and The Obscessed would take their worship of Sabbath into a musical sub-genre called Doom Metal. (itself deserving of a separate article). While none of these bands would go on to exactly set the world on fire, they were a huge influence on the more mainstream metal scene. Bands like Slayer and Metallica would take the crushing heaviness of doom metal and up the velocity of the music. While Metallica would eventually slow down and mutate into a much more diverse musical beast, they have never lost their doom, witness songs like The Thing That Should Not Be for proof. Slayer on the other hand, never sold out/progressed (depending on whether you like them or not) but with tracks like South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss, they too remember their roots. When an ever more generic and boring thrash metal scene smothered itself, fans, sick of the same racket turned as always to the underground. There they found Kyuss, whose second album Blues for the Red Sun, contained the blueprint for the stoner rock scene to be.
Unlike their first Stooges-influenced album, Blues For the Red Sun had a proper production. Courtesy of Chris Goss of cult American retro-rockers, The Masters Of Reality (named after the classic 70s album from Black Sabbath. Amusingly, it took the Masters 15 years to get round to releasing their debut album, on Def American records, home of Slayer and Danzig. Then they promptly broke up that incarnation of the band).
On Blues, pounding drums are overlaid with wild bass playing. In fact Kyuss were more bass driven than anything else, taking their cues from Metallicas late, lamented Cliff Burton.
Check out Cliffs playing on tracks like Orion, The Call of Cthulu and Anesthisia for proof. Josh Hommes heavy melodic guitar carried tunes rather than the panzer division thrash onslaught the kids had grown bored with. Vocalist John Garcias amazing laid-back voice was a breath of fresh air after years of satanic screaming. The band would go on to record two more albums, the Floyd/Hawkwind influenced Welcome To Sky Valley and the more back to basics And The Circus Left Town (an apt title as things turned out). Then on the cusp of a major breakthrough with a critically acclaimed record on Electra records and a major tour with Faith No More lined up, they just broke up. To this day no one knows why. I think they just did it for the hell of it. Still, they had sowed the seeds of an amazing underground scene that is just beginning to spill over into the mainstream.
In America, Monster Magnet have made a huge impact, influenced by MC5 and the Stooges - the Magnet are very song orientated and very psychedelic. Hawkwind are firm faves with these boys. With their recent Powertrip album being very well received and their upcoming tour with Metallica, expect to hear more from them.
More low-key, but building up a great buzz, are Queens of the Stone Age. All ex-members of Kyuss but far more laid back and song orientated. Fu Manchu are another name to watch, influenced as much by 70s T.V shows as the music. Nebula are another Kyuss offshoot, a power trio in the time honoured fashion of classic Motorhead and Cream. Leadfoot, featuring ex members of Corrosion of Conformity, have a lovely, simple, rocknroll vibe on their debut Bring It On album. Corrosion of Conformity are also worthy of mention, though influenced heavily by punk rock and Sabbath and fiercely political, they still form a valued part of the stoner rock scene, a new, more southern influenced album will be released this summer. C.o.C takes us neatly into Down, a collaboration between C.o.C, sludge rockers, Crowbar and Phil Anselmo from Pantera. The music is an awesome collision of Southern Rock and Doom but its most amazing feature is how good Phil sings once hes away from his day job. Down have a new album out this autumn. Also worthy of note are Goatsnake featuring ex-members of The Obscessed. Finally, Farflung, whose Belief Module album is available in the U.K. from Bad Acid records, are the thing for anyone into heavy Hawkwind influenced space rock.
The stoner rock scene is world-wide though. Brazil has Natas, a trio unbelievably influenced by Kyuss. Sweden has the cosmic Spiritual Beggars and Japan has Church of Misery. But for sheer diversity of bands, its hard to fault the U.K.
Electric Wizard have released two albums, the first Electric Wizard featured music from a previous incarnation of the band called Eternal. Its a classic and featured awesome artwork from Dave (Cathedral) Patchett. The second Come My Fanatics boasts a classic Michael Moorcock inspired cover. It is so dense and heavy as to sound like nothing on earth. Both albums are available from Rise Above Records. (See Cathedral article below for more on Rise Above). Their latest release Supercoven is on Bad Acid records. Bad Acid is the new label started by Dave Gedge (The Nuclear Guru). Dave was bass player in Electric Wizard's earlier incarnation as Eternal. Already Bad Acid have released material from Farflung, Church of Misery, Electric Wizard and Burning Witch. Bad Acid was started to bring music to the people, mannn!
Welsh loons Acrimony have released two awesome LSD fueled releases on Rise Above. As have Orange Goblin, though the Goblin have taken as much inspiration from Saxon as Sabbath and look to be (by stoned accident) able to reap the much mooted heavy metal revival. On which I say, it never went away, the media just found other trends to follow.
Solstice are more doom, but well worth checking out.
Cathedral deserve an article of their own so influential have they been.
Not yet, but as Bogie said in Casablanca. Soon!
Cathedral's origins begin with anarcho-punks Napalm Death in the mid 80s. Vocalist Lee Doman told me in a recent interview about those days, and his sincerity can not be faulted. Napalm Debut release Scum was incredibly extreme for the time and both it and the band were widely ridiculed. Even today it ain't easy to listen to, though its lyrics on subjects like multi-national corporations cannot be faulted. Even then they had the heaviness of fellow Brum band Black Sabbath. They went on to release the 'Fastest Album Ever' - From Enslavement to Obliteration, which while hard on the ear was remarkably original and influential and it sold. Which was a little out of touch with Napalm's original philosophy. Pluss Guitarist Bill Steer wanted to leave to concentrate on his delightfully black humoured side band, Carcass. Bill left and so did Lee, leaving behind an intriguing hint of what might have been with the Mentally Murdered EP, which featured an awesome track titled Rise Above. Napalm are still going strong today and still on Earache records which they did so much to establish. Napalm provided a launching point for several bands, Godflesh, Scorn, Carcass, Meathook Seed and Lee's new band, majestically called Cathedral.
Lee also started his own label Rise Above to release Cathedral's music. In 1990, following on their well received demo and two tracks on Rise Above's debut release, Dark Passages a compilation of doom bands like St Vitus. They next released an EP called In Memorium. It was the first to feature their trademark Dave Patchett artwork. A million miles away from Napalm's hyper speed, it was primitive, devastating slow motion doom. The band then signed to Earache and released Forest of Equilibrium. An awesome debut, a new drummer and a massive improvement in a staggering short time. Its also very melancholy and melodic very inspired by obscure 70s progressive rock bands, as Lee told me the band were very depressed at the time.
In 92, another Cathedral line-up released Soul Sacrifice, heavy, more up tempo and more song orientated, tunes like Autumn Twilight are still beautiful even today. Then in 1993, Cathedral released the astonishing Ethereal Mirror album, easily one of the greatest heavy rock albums ever released. Covering every mood and featuring Midnight Mountain (Redemption films made a fairly tasty video for this, because they had signed to Columbia in the US and they were throwing money around like confetti. In the wake of Nirvana, they signed every band with long hair, does that explain Hanson?).
Cathedral then released the Statik Majik EP, though it was longer than most bands albums. It featured a 22 minute plus track called The Voyage of the Homeless Sapien. Columbia had in Lee's words expected a cross between Black Sabbath and the Black Crowes. So Columbia dropped them. No matter, Cathedral went on to release The Carnival Bizarre. More groove orientated, it also featured their current line-up of Lee, founding guitarist Gary Jennings, Leo Smee on bass and Brain Dixon on drums. Tony lommi of Black Sabbath also guested on the album, which again built on previous releases. Songs like Night of the Seagulls, showed their love of cult movies. Something that endures to this clay. The Witchfinder General EP came next. Vincent Price was painted on the cover and his delightfully evil tones could be heard sampled on the record. They also covered The Crazy World of Arthur Brown's Fire. (Along with an incredibly obscure prog rock song). Supernatural Birth Machine followed, a full on LP of Sabbath/Purple inspired mayhem. Well received but setting the stage for the much more diverse Caravan Beyond Redemption. Like the band themselves driven by an insane love of 70s music, themselves beyond redemption!