Bongripper have a special place in my music collection alongside Isis and Opeth where they have had heavy rotation for a decade or more and I’m still not sick of them. Modern classics. They are infamous for their variety of changes and experimentation across albums so it’s quite an interesting overview. They’re still as active as ever with their latest release, Terminal (2018, full review here) being one of their best albums yet. They are an instrumental doom band but their mastery of musical story telling makes them a much more interesting listen than most in the genre. These guys stand out. I’ve done a brief review of each album in order of release, if only to showcase the art and the constantly changing themes behind the albums. There’s a lot of depth and amazing imagery going on with these guys and it’s all more impressive by the fact they self release with their own label. Also, if you smoke weed – it’s stoner metal for a reason, it’s perfect for blazing and grazing.
The Great Barrier Reefer – 8
This is their self released debut LP released in 2006 and it’s a killer way to start off a career in doom/sludge metal. There’s a surfy vibe to their variation of doom here and I really like it. Similar to Deafheaven in the way that they use a lot of brighter tones than you’d expect from such gloomy music. There’s always something simple at the heart of it that is constantly building like moving tectonic plates over centuries and then crashes into an avalanche of complex sound. The time between peaks is handled well as my interest doesn’t wane. The lulls feel good. The fact that they started with this level of quality and their most recent album is possibly their best work, is super impressive. There’s less of the experimentation found in some of their other albums here but it’s a sound I can’t turn off, it’s quite accessible for one of the more obscure metal sub-genres. Despite the serious tone of the music, Bongripper started off with a lot of humor in their music whether through the art or the track titles being puns. There’s albums where they strip that away as well. Artwork by Mark Miller. He has an awesome style perfect for this band.
Hippie Killer – 9
Following up their 2006 debut is this 2007 masterpiece, a real evolution of sound so immediately. Very open minded musicians. What fat was on Great Barrier Reefer has been cut off here and there’s a much more present sound with clearer mixing. The bass comes in really nice in particular. It starts off with a much faster pace than before, the riffs roll in that Melvins way, sounding like it’s always moving towards something or going somewhere. The music is alive. There’s a lot of clean space too that’s straight up post rock and it’s crazy chill, the distortion has been restrained this time around and I can appreciate that. There’s these really cool moments throughout the album where it’s just jamming but it’s so synergistic and realized, it’s a great experience. To my surprise there’s shorter tracks on here that actually have vocals and it’s pretty good. Only having vocals on one or two makes it easier to appreciate it as an addition without it threatening the purity of Bongripper‘s sound. It’s a long album but it’s so full of content that’s actually stimulating. Not always as isolated tracks but as a part of the albums story arc it feels right and invites you to follow along. It’s like a movie and the alt album cover looks like a movie poster. So perhaps that’s the intent and it’s executed very creatively. I feel like they’ve made some adjustments to some parts of their playing to allude to hippy music, with the drums feeling more wooden than usual and the use of Hawkwind like spacey detours. Again, peaking is something Bongripper have mastery over. Can’t seem to find the artist but it’s possibly Nathan Marciniak based on what I could find. Please correct me if this is wrong.
Heroin – 4
Heroin isn’t really a Bongripper record as much as it is a Bongripper experiment. It was released the same year as Hippie Killer and considering they released these records on their own they don’t owe anyone anything. They made what they wanted to and they had a concept they wanted to explore. It was an interesting choice either way. This also marks a much darker direction for the band. To describe it musically I would say it’s closer to ambient/drone making it one of their least accessible records. They had something to express and they did just that, there are plenty of people who can identify with the themes of opiates and withdrawals. It’s similar to that Fantomas album where they did a “musical” rendition of a heart surgery. Cool idea but if you pick it up as your first CD because people told you to check out the band – it could make for a dead end.
Hate Ashbury – 7
While this album maintains the darkness discovered on Heroin, there is more of a musical offering here. It’s crazy bleak. The initial build up is a staggering 12 minutes monotone anxiety. When the second track kicks in so does the weed with some of the thickest tones you can get. It’s like they’re playing shadow instruments summoned by the devil. Most instrumental bands play very long wavy kinds of music or fast technical stuff, Bongripper have some really pointed riffs that carry a lot of aggression and at times even a sense of hardcore rhythm. It’s a long form format but they don’t mind throwing in a minute or two of just thrashing about that could be a track in it’s own right. Like a crust punk section thrown between lulls and crashes. Personally I would have preferred a couple of the parts be a little shorter because there was a point or two where I was waiting for the payoff for too long. At some point you do question the point of what you’re doing when it’s a single tone for minutes. Drone fans would love it but I’m more of a doom/post metal guy. I can’t find the credit for the album art but hit me up if you know.
Satan Worshiping Doom – 9
Going back to a similar style as Great Barrier Reefer this is a constantly moving and building. It’s made with one goal in mind, to make a killer satanic doom album with some sick art. They not only did this but did so with technical clarity that keeps it interesting. This is music made for the stoner doom people and it’s straight up my beat. It feels very energetic for the genre, perhaps coming off of such a bleak direction reinvigorated their love the slow groove. At least with the guitars, the drums get pretty hectic on this record and stands out nicely in the mix like on Hippie Killer. If you’re looking for this kind of long form sludgy doom then you can never go wrong with these records, it’s just consistently effective music. They fulfill the essence of it like they’re the ‘chosen ones’ of doom metal. Again I can’t find an artist credit which is frustrating. Always have it on the bandcamp pages bands!
Miserable – 7.5
The opening of Miserable almost sounds like the riffs are having a dialogue or rambling. The first track Endless lives up to its name and does feel endless. It’s a track full of despair, so you’ll have to be in the mood for that. They have certainly achieved their goal though. The second tracks a bit busier but the mixing on this one is a lot muddier and dronier. It’s similar to Terminal but lacks that sense of melody, it’s more blunted. Still a great doom record that pass the time with a gaze. The ending track, which is an album in it’s self at 30 odd minutes, is where this album really shines. It’s a great track that gives me more of what I crave from Bongrippers signature sounds with the constant changes and tiny fleeting details. Another artwork by Mark Miller
Terminal – 10
From my review here
Terminal has two tracks, Slow and Death. So what we have here is “Terminal Slow Death”. I’m assuming is an album about terminal illness or losing someone to terminal illness. The first track represents the slow moments leading up to an expected but unknown time of death – A watched pot boils slower and so on. It starts with the hard crunch and rumbling of being diagnosed and washes away into guitar driven melody about confronting that diagnosis and coming to terms with it. It feels serious and personal. It ebbs and flows between this heavier crunch the melody parts throughout the 23-minute track speaking to the difficulty involve in coming to terms with death. The nights where you are trying to sleep then the crushing realization of the bigger picture of it all pulls you awake in a fit of anxiety. That’s what this track is to me anyway, based on three words and some sounds. The band could have a completely different explanation.
The second track “Death” is immediately a lot heavier and thrashing about like the ocean in Call Of the Wretched Sea by Ahab. It’s sharp and abrasive, just how I imagine death. It stays this way right until the last 30 seconds where it fades away into the sonic atmosphere. I believe there was also audio allusions to the sound of a heart monitor flat-lining with the way some of the guitar licks were arranged using sharp high notes evenly spaced. The track is full of nervous energy building and depleting to eventually be depleted forever. As a whole, “death” is consistently sludge driven doom that performs as if it were orchestrated masterfully.
Artwork by @samalcaraz