It is apposite that Bong should make an album called Stoner Rock. That it’s taken them until their fourth effort to do so displays the kind of restraint only seen in the epically wasted or the dead. The title is of course something of a sly dig at genre conventions. Mention Stoner Rock to anybody with a passing interest in such things and they’ll most likely point you in the direction of Kyuss or Sleep (and that band’s Dopesmoker album in particular). Over the years, the boundaries of what Stoner Rock is have become blurred to such a degree that it can almost be applied to any band that had the munchies once. Perhaps such blurring is unsurprising when there’s usually copious amounts of weed involved.
This then is Bong’s take on Stoner Rock, and it’s an attempt to redefine the term and make it their own. This is a band more usually described in terms of drone, and this album is no different. Essentially two tracks built around a repetitive, low-end growling guitar drone, it’s an album that already sounds caned beyond function. In that respect, it’s as stoner as it is possible to get, unless it was pressed into a brick of resin and wrapped in hemp. Not just stoner rock, but stoned rock.
Opening track Polaris is a meditation on one chord. It comes in waves, not quite lapping, but not aggressively pounding either. The point, it seems is the sheer inevitability of the next chord taking over from where the last left off. The guitar tone is as sludge coated and bass heavy as you might expect, and it owes a huge debt to the early work of Dylan Carlson’s Earth. If anything, Bong have taken Carlson’s blueprint and simplified it further. There are no riffs here as such; just a relentless undulating sea of a single chord played out for what might as well be infinity.
When the gothic incantations begin at around the seven minute mark, they’re almost an unwelcome distraction as they create a distraction from the rumbling void. The same is true some five minutes later when the slap of a snare drum has the audacity to break its way into the hypnotic fug. There are slight embellishments along the way, with effects being carefully applied to the guitar tone and incidental motifs buried deep in the gloom, but the real purpose of Polaris is to achieve that stoned state of mind with out the aid of controlled substances. After 36 minutes it finally fades out, and the affect is not unlike the experience of being brought out of a hypnotic trance. Everything seems brighter and more alive, you feel relaxed but invigorated, and everything is right with the world.
That’s when Out Of The Aeons kicks in and the process begins again. Another rumination on drone, and apparently a reworking of the basis of Polaris, this is a similar yet altogether different beast. The sporadic drums provide a curious floating anchor point for the song, and the drone shares space with an Indian flavoured guitar line. Polaris seemed designed to aid exploration of the dark recesses of the mind but Aeons requires more conscious thought and exploration. Once again there’s a Hammer Horror interjection, but here it makes slightly more sense.
Ultimately, this is still a slab of phenomenally wasted music, embellishments or otherwise. At a running time of 72 minutes, those unfamiliar with the form (whatever you want to call it) will most likely give up before the first 10 minutes of Polaris has taken effect, most likely dismissing it as a long drawn out joke. That, however, is their loss. What Bong have created here is an album of pig-headed, stoned magnificence. It might not be up there with the greats of the genre, but as a statement and a celebration of just what it means and feels like to be truly baked, Stoner Rock gets it bang on.