PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Gonga: self-titled

Hunter Felt

Gonga

Gonga

Label: Tee Pee
US Release Date: 2004-06-29
UK Release Date: 2003-11-17
Amazon
iTunes

An acquaintance, perhaps uneasy with the term, once asked me the exact definition of "stoner metal". I really could not respond. After all, when lazy reviewers, such as myself, uses the term "stoner metal", we are really just offering a meaningless shorthand for "it sounds like Kyuss or early Monster Magnet". Perhaps the laziest of reviewers merely use it to mean "really heavy rock that sounds really good when combined with marijuana use", which is a category so broad and inclusive that it is essentially meaningless.

In short, months went by, and I still never came up with a workable definition, but I can't help but believe that this elusive definition can be found somewhere within the epic psychedelic sludge that makes up UK act Gonga's self-titled debut. In what may be the album's blessing and curse, Gonga is a definitive stoner metal album, one that does not really expand the boundaries of the possibly defunct genre but instead acts as a primer of such, condensing all of the great qualities of the genre into one convenient album.

Previous attempts to define "stoner metal" have focused on the genre's supposed obsession with the past, particularly the late '70s. Gonga, like its peers, clearly borrows from the likes of the earliest metal bands, bands like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath who borrowed the mind-altering assault of psychedelic rock and shared an obsession with unusual time signatures and intricate song structures with the progressive rock bands of the time. Clearly some of the genre's lesser lights could be accurately accused of mere hero worship, but Gonga, like most of the better stoner metal acts, does not simply rehash the bongwater-soaked haze of the early '70s proto-metal scene. What Gonga borrows from the music of the past is the timeless nature of the music. Take "Hermes", for example, an epic eight-minute crawler with cryptic, inaudible lyrics and a title (and sound) that pays homage to the more mystical (or at least mystical seeming) leanings of bands like Blue Oyster Cult and Hawkwind. The song does seem to have its roots in the past, but not the '70s. "Hermes" really sounds like music that comes from some primitive time in the distant past of humanity. In fact, Spinal Tap references be damned, the song actually does sound "druidic".

Gonga features all the elements one expects, and a fan needs, in a stoner metal album, meaning slower tempos, intricate riffs, and oddly phased solos galore. Gonga does, however, put a personal spin on the sound. Even for a stoner metal band, Gonga's fascination with slowing down the pace to a throbbing crawl seems downright experimental at times, particularly in the equally enthralling and aggravating "Octane Bud". At times, Gonga slows down to the point where the band seems to be altering the very nature of time.

Gonga also does not ignore the genre's heavy debt to the early '90s grunge scene in the formation of stoner metal. After all, the fuzz and brutal tempos that, in some ways, tag bands as "stoner metal" come not from the traditional metal scene but from Seattle area bands such as the Melvins and Mudhoney. How else do you explain the presence of such grunge survivors as Mark Lanegan and Dave Grohl in the revolving door line-up of Queens of the Stone Age? Gonga's vocalist, Joe Volk, provides a crucial connection between proto-metal and grunge. In the rare moments where the band is not indulging in beautifully warped riffing and soloing, Volk channels the haunted spirits of Layne Staley and Kurt Cobain, effectively adding a somber tone to the proceedings and avoiding the always present danger of over-the-top melodrama. In fact, Volk's grungy vocals inspire the album highlight "Fellowman", an almost punky song where the band switches gears between a fast riff straight from the alt-rock playbook and the delirious muck that defines the entire album. The result is a musical amusement park ride worth the price of the album.

It is too early to know whether Gonga is a sudden resurrection of a dying genre, or merely stoner metal's glorious last gasp, but it is an impressive debut by any standard. At the very least, it is a handy disc to have, just in case anyone else happens to ask you for the definition of stoner metal.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.