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Album Review: BONG We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been

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Bong—whose name is much more of a phonetic interpretation of their sound than a blunt (lulz) attempt at weed humor—have made a small but highly respected name for themselves by practicing what they call "unregulated experiments on tonal prolonging." It’s easy to dismiss that self-description as pretentious stoner gunk, but I would counter that that is in fact a very accurate description of their sound, one that merits a serious listen.

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For a bunch of ostensible stoners, this quartet is startlingly productive. Starting with their self-tilted debut. We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been is their seventh full-length album since 2009. Like many of their drone doom peers, Bong tend to play one note and play it for a very long time. Guitarist Dave Terry (also of eclectic British doom outfit 11 Paranoias) will summon a single, droning monstrosity around which everything beings to revolve like a burning solar giant. But while you could legally call some of Bong’s compositions “one-note,” it would be a disservice to the magic they’re able to weave within that framework.

On the surface Bong appear to be a prototypical stoner outfit but it’s startling how little they resembles either half of the drone/doom genre with which they’re associated. The songs on We Are, We Were and We Will Have Been are infinitely more tangible and digestible than those of Bong’s drone peers, and yet there are no material riffs to of which to speak.

Opener “Time Regained,” the first of two 20-minute jams, is indeed massive, with an opening that momentarily resembles Hans Zimmer’s infamous BRAAAM. But its intent is to embrace, not smother. There’s nothing bleak or foreboding here, just life. Around their churning core, Bong till a rich landscape using the massive chants of Dave Terry (who also plays bass) and a magical sitar skillfully wielded by Ben Freeth. The sound is warm and inviting and slowly, you begin to gently sway along as its hidden forms take shape and begin to dance. Before long you’re deep in its throws, experiencing a drone environment unlike any you’ve known before.

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What Bong have, in a word, is touch, exemplified in drummer Mike Smith. It’s hard to pick a precise moment wherein he truly distinguishes himself. Suffice to say that he simply does so by appearing in exactly the right place at the right time. Smith is buried far back in the sound, but no thundering toms are needed here; just the occasional, perfect strike to accent a moment in time.

Instead of getting even heavier on the second track, “Find Your Own Gods,” they drop most of the bass and go full jam mode. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled onto a slowed down, double-mass version of Pink Floyd (who Bong covered on 2011’s Beyond Ancient Space). Dave Terry’s guitar finally crawls out of the depths and administers a healthy dose of drifting guitar lines that dance on the edge of aural perception like ghosts. The effect is borderline hallucinogenic.

That said, I understand that Bong are an acquired taste. Accordingly, I was almost tempted to exercise Metal Injection’s “no applicable score” clause here. You could give this a 1 or a 10 and be totally justified in either position. To some people, this stuff probably sounds like total garbage. But to a select few, it’s the Holy Grail; the treasure that has been waiting at the end of a vast sea of yawn-inducing stoner and drone bands who confuse volume with quality and length with depth. I proudly stand with the later group.

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Buy or die.


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