Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bongripper - Miserable

Written by Craig Hayes.

Mike Miller

You can guarantee that the majority of the chatter about Bongripper’s new album, Miserable, is going to link its title directly to the band’s sound. That’s fair enough. Bongripper does play downbeat, sludgy, and thoroughly caustic instrumental doom. There’s certainly been no obviously buoyant moments to assuage the sonic agony on full-length albums like Heroin, Hippie Killer, Satan Worshipping Doom, or 2012’s magnificent, Live at Roadburn either. All those albums have brought plenty of red-eyed, woebegone tidings, but as much as they've demolished the spirit, and the eardrums, they've also made for wholly euphoric listening experiences too.

Obviously, any euphoric feelings you get from listening to Bongripper come from a realm of sadomasochist satisfaction, and that’s clearly something a great deal of metal provides. In Bongripper's case, the band’s tone and temper is unquestionably battering, and they're not averse to throwing in an abundance of acid-burn feedback and painful percussion too. However, all that torment is still undeniably pleasurable, and I'm guessing Bongripper would entirely approve of any sordid gratification in that arrangement, because the band has always sounded in favour of indulging in unhealthy pursuits.

That’s exactly what you’ll find on Miserable too. More of Bongripper's gutter-dwelling and pulverising doom, and more of the band’s monolithic, step-by-skull-crushing-step, stoner metal onslaughts. In that sense, Bongripper are doing much as they always have on Miserable, and that’s no bad thing. Bongripper are playing to their strengths here, and those are very admirable strengths, but that’s not to say there aren't any surprises to be found on the band’s new album.

Photos by Carmelo Española.

With Bongripper being an entirely instrumental band, one that takes the long way round the block, with epic-length tunes, that puts one issue front and centre; namely, holding the listeners interest. As we all know, there’s plenty of doom bands that take a similar route to Bongripper, only to make for very dull company, because they repeat the same sluggish steps over and over again. Thankfully, Bongripper have never done that. Sure, the band’s songs all have clear commonalities, and that’s to be expected, because this is down-tuned, heavy-lidded doom, and there’s no vocals to guide the journey. That’s always put a lot of pressure on Bongripper's guitarists Dennis Pleckham and Nick Dellacroce to hold your attention, and they haven’t been afraid to experiment with the band's sound to do just that.

There’s certainly a sense of that experimentation to be found on Miserable. Opener, “Endless”, is a 17 minute dirge featuring the kind of giant cosmic riffage that’d satisfy Sleep or Ufomammut aficionados, but it also comes with the trippy stomp that'd appeal to fans of OM too. However, what really makes the tune, is that Bongripper drops in a more ambient passage mid-song, to toy with the dynamics, and let things burn at a lower temperature, before throwing the fuel back on the fire, and ending on a full-blown, psychedelic maelstrom.

The similarly lengthy, “Descent”, follows on, and Bongripper immediately changes tack. Where “Endless” worked it ways up to its climax, “Descent” takes the opposite path. It starts off with more up-front chug and churn, dragging its knuckles, as the percussion repeatedly kicks you in the stomach. However, then “Descent” does something very interesting in its midsection too. Bongripper begins mixing in warmer, melodic riffs, then a massive cavern appears, and as the pummelling riffs and drums disappear, the song ends with a long and slow series of echoing effects, fading into the distance.

Photos by Carmelo Española.

“Descent” is, and I don't use this term lightly, kind of beautiful. Now, beauty is obviously something that hasn't featured a lot of in Bongripper’s discography thus far, because the band’s generally concentrated on frightful sounds, and ugly scenes. Still, as formidable as Bongripper's past work has been, there’s no doubt that change in compositional alignment makes for a impressive injection of far more melodic texturing.

Still, I don't want to lead you astray here, Bongripper haven't softened their sound, or reined in the menace. That’s not the case at all, and Miserable’s 28-minute final track “Into Ruin” is proof of that. “Into Ruin” is spectacular opus, blending all that has come before. Colossal, distorted doom meets trance-inducing, sparser sections, with everything incrementally building to the inevitable crescendo. That arrives, of course, with spectacular destructive force. The bass, guitars and drums all hit their peak, but it's the wait, and all that tension beforehand, that ensures the songs length is never a burden.

So, that’s Miserable. An album that’s anything but. I mean, to be clear, you can soak in the sorrowful swells, and wallow in all the low-end muck, if you want; because there's plenty of formidable doom to be found on Miserable. However, it's entirely possible to just get on board with all that euphoria that Bongripper brings here too, because every shuffle, lurch, or faster paced burst on Miserable tells the same tale. Here’s a band, celebrating everything that is dark and twisted about metal, and having a fucking blast exploring just how much pain and pleasure they can bring.


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Tagged with Bongripper, Carmelo Española, Craig Hayes, doom metal, sludge metal, stoner metal
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