December 22, 2018

Mad John the Wise - Voyager

By Calen Henry. Dominic Sohor’s eye catching Voyager cover jumped out at me during a dive into Bandcamp’s “progressive sludge” tag. While definitely progressive and stoner rock, Mad John the Wise are hardly sludge, but they're all the more interesting for it.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Dominic Sohor.

Dominic Sohor’s eye catching Voyager cover jumped out at me during a dive into Bandcamp’s “progressive sludge” tag. While definitely progressive and stoner rock, Mad John the Wise are hardly sludge, but they're all the more interesting for it.

For Mad John, "progressive" means cherry-picking approachable elements of alternative rock, punk, stoner rock, and folk into a surprisingly cohesive melting pot of sounds and influences. They cite the usual stoner metal influences, like Mastodon, High on Fire, and Baroness, as well as an eclectic mix including Bad Religion, Kvelertak, Jethro Tull, and Bob Dylan. Though they never actually sound like any of those bands, the heavy, riffy genre hopping of Kvelertak and Priestess comes to mind as their closest conceptual touch point.

Over its run time Voyager gets heavier while staying melodic and catchy. Songs get longer and slower, bringing some truly crushing riffs while maintaining the genre experimentation of earlier tracks. Album opener “The Only Chance” sets the stage with an extended clean guitar intro before breaking into rock. “Knee Scratch”, a punky ode to truancy, keeps the momentum going into “Whisper’s Load”, a riff-focused rock stomper and the last track before things break apart into weightier tracks. “The Karman Line” builds up atmosphere before adding a lead violin to play off the lead guitars, a highlight of the album. “Call of the Wild” continues the slow-burn portion of things, a slower, more drum-driven track featuring Eleni Papalitsa’s vocals to give it a unique feel. “Banishment” kicks things into high rock gear again before the one-two punch of “Monolith” and “The Way of Grace”, the two longest songs on the record and two of the most diverse. “Monolith” ebbs and flows through riffs and rhythms, always grounded in their accessible hard rock, while “The Way of Grace” brings back the folky feel (and violin) of “The Karman Line” before a glorious pop-punk interlude gives way to a guitar break hearkening back to "The Only Chance" to finish out the album.

Mad John just don’t care about genre baggage, which sets them apart the most from peers. Like Kvelertak, first and foremost, Voyager rocks. It’s chock full of head-nodding riffs, and if the riffs are generic, they're only academically so. It’s a playbook of big, catchy riffs from any genre the band happens to like. Sections sound like they could play on the radio or MTV. It’s a refreshing take in a scene that can sometimes get wrapped up in being “underground-er than thou” and worth a look for anyone who hasn't disowned their gateway hard rock and metal bands in favour of the trve kvlt.

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