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Bongzilla

support Slowjoint + Cacus + Dreich + Bethmoora
author AP date 25/05/17 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Long at last, the sun is out, and if there is one genre suited for the baking afternoon heat of summer, stoner rock- and metal would be it. And Pumpehuset, with its laid-back courtyard (Byhaven) featuring a bar, a food truck dishing out Venezuelan street-food, plentiful seating and an outdoor stage, provides an ideal setting in which to experience today’s manifold package of artists representing the genre, beginning with a pairing of local, up-and-coming bands playing for free outside and culminating in the long-awaited return of Bongzilla in the venue’s smaller hall.

Photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Bethmoora

It is hard to imagine a more effective antidote for the scent of summer in the air than the lobotomising stoner-doom played by Bethmoora. The songs proceed with the energy of a sloth and the aesthetic appeal of an earthquake, chugging their way through endless drones before eventually flowering into a crescendo — it is quite hypnotic, but also numbing. But although it often feels like an eternity must pass before the next leaden chord is struck, the band has, at the very least, developed a semblance of showmanship since the last time that we crossed paths. Vocalist Anders Kofod comes across as even more diabolical now, glaring at the spectators with murder in his eyes as he lets one seismic growl after the other loose, and unlike at the aforementioned concert, his cohorts, too, have injected some sorely needed grit into their veins. Bassist Sune Westh Svendsen seems especially spirited (read: within the parameters of Bethmoora’s lumbering style), striking each note like his life depends on it and, with his eyes shut, looking completely lost in and devoured by the music.

With the appropriate visual aesthetic in place thus, the Copenhagen-based quintet would do well to think up some textures, dynamics and fills to make their songs more nuanced. There is nothing wrong with the underlying idea — the slow, crushing, hallucinogenic doom works extremely well for Electric Wizard, for instance — but all too often, they seem to get stuck in a rut, iterating over a rhythm or riff that seems to be going nowhere. Because when those crashing melodies eventually rain down, it is easy to hear why the British band Conan was so quick to endorse Bethmoora as a band worth keeping tabs on.

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Dreich

Dreich is rapidly asserting itself as one of the most active bands rummaging about the capital’s gig circuit and as such, today’s concert is the fourth time in less than a year that I have seen these eclectic extreme metallers live. Inevitably, the band thus runs the risk of apathy on my part lest they manage to inject some element of surprise into the set, or at the very least show a marked improvement in their showmanship. And to my satisfaction, Dreich succeeds on both counts: the concert begins with a song piloted by a reverberating tremolo-lead by guitarist Lewy Nicolson, which, to my recollection, has not featured on the setlist before; and vocalist Tiago Dias looking unusually energised in his embodiment of the music. He is always at the forefront, whirling his dreadlocks and manically swaying back and forth, as though he might charge into the audience any second and start a riot. Indeed, the spotlight is on Dias and rightly so; the three other musicians — Nicolson, bassist Malik Çamlıca and drummer Isak Koppel Levy — still remain an introverted bunch, favouring a peripheral, if focused role in the group’s performance.

In the past, Dreich’s music has been a conundrum for me but whether it is a heavy presence of new material or simply my being more alert to details, the band’s songs seem to open up for me to a greater extent now, with the many atmospheric, post-metallic touches in particular making an impression. One continues to wish that Dias’ three colleagues would draw upon their passion in equal measure in order for Dreich to fulfil its potential as an electrifying live act but unlike before, I do now find myself anxiously awaiting the eventual début album (at present, the only recorded output Dreich has for grabs is a split EP with Mares Of Diomedes from last year).

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Cacus

Dias barely has time to catch his breath before hurrying indoors to front his other project, the ‘filthy dirty sludge’ metal band Cacus, which was formed more or less at the same time as Dreich in late 2015. Drawing inspiration from Eyehategod and their ilk, the band presents an orthodox take on the genre, with songs like “Wretched Sun” riddled with scorching NOLA riffs, deep grooves and wah-wah-wizardry, and driven by the energy of hardcore punk. The upbeat nature of the music gives impetus to Dias’ stage presence, more confrontational and unhinged than it ever gets with Dreich. The reins are completely off now: he plunges his body around like a marionette, surging toward and receding from the stage edge with his dreadlocks lashing at the air in liaison with his vicious growl.

Of course, it also helps that the rest of the band — guitarist Martin Christiansen, bassist Benjamin Elmgren & drummer Simon Esbjerg — contribute their fair share to Cacus’ steamrolling demeanour, wild-eyed and rowdy as they thrash out the likes of “Rising from the Dead” and “Dirty, Filthy, Godless” for a rapt audience. None of it is rocket science or proposes to reinvent the genre; the band thrives on southern-fried riffs galore, playing them with a violent, hellbent swagger that is completely arresting. As Dias himself puts it before the aforementioned “Dirty, Filthy, Godless”: ”[they] like to drink, [they] like to get fucked up and some other stuff he probably shouldn’t say.” Think what you will about that mantra — there is no escaping the fact that Cacus breathe some fresh air into the Danish metal scene with their attitude and invigorating showmanship.

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Slowjoint

Calling themselves a U.S.-inspired, blues-driven ‘bongsludge’ trio, Slowjoint is all about the riff — and more often than not, one riff mutating slightly over the course of its parent song. As such, the band’s music is custom designed for stoners who are not that fussed about depth or variety when it comes to choosing a soundtrack for their next fix of doobie, whilst the rest of us grow tired of the formula after only a couple of songs. Slowjoint does, however, have a secret weapon in being able showmen, offering their one-trick pony to us with zeal and bluster. The two front figures — bassist/vocalist Dennis Petersen & guitarist Patrick Bondig — strike their instruments with a vengeance, brandishing and swinging them at us in a manner reminiscent of Weedeater, with Petersen’s amusingly maniacal expressions especially drawing parallels to that band’s Dave ‘Dixie’ Collins. It is fun to watch but too laissez faire to ever be truly convincing.

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Bongzilla

Does a more quintessentially ‘stoner’ band exist than Bongzilla? Bathed in green and purple light and encouraging the smoking of joints among the audience, these Madison, WI-based veterans of stoner metal boil the genre down to its bare essentials, zoning out as they discharge one sizzling groove after the other. Most of the audience seems to want nothing else so in that sense the band succeeds in its efforts, but for a neutral spectator such as myself, the majority of Bongzilla’s music is too static to lure me on board. There are exceptions of course: bouts of tribal percussion, courtesy of drummer Michael John Henry (aka. ‘Magma’), and hazy acid trips that expose the impeccable synergy between guitarists Michael ‘Muleboy’ Makela and Jeff ‘Spanky’ Schultz. Both deviations from the riff-o-rama turn out to be something of a rarity, however, and as such the nigh mythical reverence in which the group’s disciples hold them never makes sense for me.

Still, it must be said that Bongzilla have a rare ability to flood a venue with their music and subject an audience to their spell. As long as they are bringing the riffs, the venue is awash with the thick and boggy vibes of America’s deep south (albeit that the band is, of course, of northern heritage) and the 150-or-so patrons are banging their heads, entranced. And this unique sensation is what stoner-concerts are all about — I may not find personal satisfaction in music this unremarkable, but it is hard to argue with the fact that songs like “666lb. Bongsession” and “Stone a Pig” deliver exactly what was promised: a feast for stoners.

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