I will say that after listening to Bonk’s Western Soul I believe that Norway’s Racing Junior label has perhaps the most willfully eclectic variety of artists around. Having previously heard the likes of Tøyen and Salvatore, I thought I had at least some idea as to what I could expect from these people. But of course, Bonk is totally different from either of those acts, with nary a trace of delicate synth-pop or pastoral post-rock to be found. Western Soul is a hard rock album in the tradition of British metal giants such as Judas Priest, Motorhead and AC/DC (whom I do realize are technically Australian, but who also trace their musical lineage to the UK), with perhaps a small smidgen of the Ramones’ thrown in for good measure as well.
It comes as no surprise that Bonk have already gained plaudits from Monster Magnet’s Dave Wyndorf: Bonk’s greasy hard-rock revivalism fits perfectly into the angry, drunken cosmos populated by Monster Magnet and the rest of their stoner-rock compatriots. I don’t mean “stoner-rock” as any sort of pejorative description, by the way. Maybe the average Bonk tune is a but more concise than your average Kyuss joint, but underneath their clipped punk brevity you will also find that they have the same greasy, psychedelic blues-riffs that have driven the greatest metal groups throughout history. This is definitely an album you could get high to—not that PopMatters endorses such activities.
The most frustrating thing about this album is that its less than thirty minutes long. Now, of course, many groups have been putting out short releases lately, and there’s a part of me that applauds this kind of economy. I think there are a few rappers who could profit from taking the “less is more” credo to heart. But there’s another part of me that wants to scream when I pay my hard-earned money for a CD that takes more time to take out of the package than to listen to.
The album gets off on a weird foot with “Front Page”, which fakes the listener out with a sound collage of old news reports and strange drum machine noises before, about a minute deep, kicking into a mighty sludge rock riff. To give you an idea of what Bonk are up to, this track also has a separate vocal track underneath where the lyrics are filtered through a syrupy processor that makes it sound like Satan is speaking through your speakers. Heavy stuff, man.
“Grooverman” could easily have been an outtake off British Steel, if that album had also featured a cameo from a pre-mortem Bon Scott. They’re banging on the drums and screaming and it all sounds like rush hour in Hell, but in a good way. “Sarah” is a change of pace, with a spoken-word vocal and acoustic chorus juxtaposed against a typically hardass metal instrumental track. It’s an odd mixture of styles that reminds me of early Flaming Lips—you know, from back when they took a lot of drugs and wanted to be the stoner Replacements. And oh, did I mention Judas Priest? “Ni Hao Mama” uses a riff that sounds so similar to “Breakin’ The Law” that it should—and very well could—be worthy of litigation (If Halford & Co. ever hear it, that is).
But if, as the old saying goes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then those old British metal gods couldn’t help but feel incredibly flattered if they ever came across a copy of Western Soul. Those crazy Norwegians have done it again. Just don’t be fooled by the weird-o cover: this isn’t some namby-pamby singer-songwriter or glitch-hop outfit. This is balls-to-the-wall, take-no-prisoners hard-as-nails rock and roll of the kind that you rarely see anymore outside of museums.
No whiners allowed, just lots and lots of riffing.