For Fans Of is a column that takes one very well-known and popular band that our writers and readers are fans of, and then our staff write about a small group of lesser-known bands that do similar things and who we think you all might like as well and give a listen to.
Whenever we discuss the topic of discussion for our next For Fans Of segment, one of the first things we consider is what genres we haven’t picked veteran bands from yet. FFO: Emperor came about due to the desire to cover black metal, and this time around, the colossal riffs of doom metal became the theme of the nominating process. And while there’s no shortage of bands deserving of the inaugural doom FFO, there’s really no contesting our final selection of stoner-doom legends Sleep, one of the pinnacles of the genre with an amount of influence approaching that of Black Sabbath. From the the heavy stoner imagery to the even heavier riffs to the band’s demise creating to equally incredible bands (High on Fire and Om), there really is no way to understate just how important these Cali potheads were for the genre and metal as whole. As we all wait for the recently reunited band to (hopefully) release a new full-length, check out some of the newer doom bands that have capably carried the pot leaf flag into new and exciting territory.
HARK – Crystalline
Let us suppose, for just a moment, that you’d like to infuse your doom metal with stoner but also hints of progressive music. You’re looking for something thick, feedback-ridden and powerful but that also knows how to dance with chaos and swim in more varied depths. Well, say hello to HARK, a group from Wales who are here to do all of that, and more. Their 2014 release Crystalline is chock full of massive riffs and heartfelt vocals that should speak to any fan of Sleep, but it also has plenty of intricacies, faster segments and an overall complexity that keeps it fresh as the years go by.
Consider the closing track, “Clear Light Of…”. Not only does it have Neil Fallon of Clutch as a guest vocalist, a thing which makes any song instantly better, but it also spans 10 minutes, which easily shows us that the battle is, in fact, never over. Instead of the usual prolongation of the track via just resounding riffs, HARK also achieves this hefty runtime through layered drums, riffs on top of leads and a general progressive track structure. Just listen to what happens when Fallon’s vocals kick in and then right after he concludes. Admittedly, Mastodon comes to mind, but everything is just too thick and in your face for that comparison. The riff that comes after it, and even more so the solo right after that, speak right to the headbanging child in us, remembering those first tastes of desert-tinged stoner sensibilities, hurtling us back to the smoke drenched atmospheres of Sleep.
Nor is that track the only instance of these balances and tendencies. Check out “Scarlet Extremities” for an even more aggressive example of the fine line these gents walk between stoner and progressive, or opener “Palendromeda” for more of the colorful and melodic interplay between the riffs and leads present on the album. Crystalline got some love around its release, but has since faded a bit from the public’s attention, and that’s a darn shame. Every fan of the heavier sides of stoner can appreciate the sounds and ideas contained within, feeding on the basic core of the genre that is the congruence between feedback, emotion and dynamic vocals.
Son of a Witch – Thrones In The Sky
Is there a specific formula or element that is absolutely crucial to good stoner metal? One key piece, a linchpin to the genre, without which everything falls apart? It’s an extremely diverse genre, covering the cough-syrup-drenched slow crawls of the almighty Electric Wizard to the fast and easily digestible riffing of The Sword, and covering everything in between: stoner doom is one of the only heavy genres that can exist at any point across the spectrum of tempos, from unapologetically slow, low and lethargic, to fast, pedal-to-the-metal bursts of aggression. Across their brief but influential career, Sleep covered every base, but mostly stuck to a definitive midtempo sound that allowed for both psychedelic jam-fests and some stupidly heavy riffing, combining the best elements of doom, psych rock, and classic metal into a fusion that ticked every box necessary for captivating and original music.
Brazilian upstarts Son of a Witch are set to become stoner stalwarts of slow metal with their debut album, Thrones In The Sky, which is hot off the press as of just over a month ago. Five monolithic slabs of music – the shortest track is just under nine minutes – that throw together every element needed for great doom, this release is sure to brighten up your day. Fuzzy riffs that recall the glory days of Black Sabbath? Check. Slightly raspy soaring vocal melodies? Check. Soft, psychedelic sections dripping with spacey, reverberating guitars? You bet your ass. Everything these guys do is quintessential stoner doom, and they carry Sleep’s flame on in bombastic fashion.
Kröwnn – Hyborian Age
Sleep unfortunately get ripped off a ton, and it’s largely due to their massive impact on music. When you really think about it, all bands kinda rip off one another using the bands that influenced them before. It’s a vicious cycle that will never end, unfortunately, but there is a white light to look towards. There are bands that are able to take influence and turn it into something that stands aside their predecessors as great, and as something that sounds unique while still retaining its roots. With Hyborian Age, Kröwnn pushed their own limits as a young band from Venice, Italy and eventually wound up with a killer stoner metal record.
The vocals are doom-y, and monotone in a very soothing way. It’s almost as if you can imagine them all sitting cross-legged meditating while writing and playing the songs heard on this album. It reminds me a lot of a higher register version of Wood of Ypres. The music is slightly more intense than Sleep in the sense that some of the tempos are a bit faster (though not by much), but the entire album is a banger from front to back. It’s a shame that they haven’t released anything new in the last couple of years, but apparently they are still an active unit, which hopefully means that there’s new music on the horizon. At any rate, this is not Sleep worship like many other countless bands. This is Sleep appreciation with a focus on moving forward and writing their own history, forging their own path. And they are well on their way as of now.
Suma – Let the Churches Burn
Look, I love Dopesmoker/Jerusalem as much as the any stoner fan, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Sleep’s magnum opus(es) are rather repetitive. Don’t get me wrong; Sleep crafted one of the greatest examples of subtle evolution within a massive composition, and anyone who disputes its classic status is just blatantly wrong. But unless I’m in the mood – and have the time – to sit down and digest the entire hour long bong hit, I typically sift through my collection for a more segmented slab of droning, doomy goodness. The ideal stoner record strikes a balance between meditative background music and a thwomping riff-fest, something that Sweden’s own Suma pull of with aplomb. Their pinnacle album Let the Churches Burn will make you want to heed the band’s command and blaze in pews with a joint lit by one of the Advent candles.
This might seem contradictory considering what I said above, but one Churches‘ greatest strengths is its cohesion across a lengthy run time. But while Sleep literally wrote one continuous track, Suma carefully breaks up this longer feeling into several unique ideas, all of which feel thematically similar but still distinct. These tracks are long, dense and full of more variety than one might except, particularly in the interesting use of vocal samples similar to a Dragged Into Sunlight record. As the band swirls thick swaths of riffs into Sunn O)))-like walls of sound, jarring interviews and speeches sometimes pop into the fray, such as when an asylum worker asking a patient why he drilled into his own head on “I Am the Spiritual Shepherd.” The remainder of the albums themes are much punchier and full of that more rock-oriented energy from Holy Mountain, often times dipping into the sludgier influences of bands like Eyehategod.
While this all comes together into a longer listening experience than Sleep’s masterpiece, Churches differs in the manner in which it draws the listener in. Instead of pure contemplative bliss, Suma conjures numerous pangs of emotion, from zoning out to thick walls of guitar to shifting in your seat while listening to a chilling soundbite. It certainly takes some investment, but its an investment more easily accessed and well worth the effort to weed through.
Conan – Monnos
Most bands who are influenced by Sleep, whether intentionally or unintentionally, rarely exert the bravery inherent in releasing a sixty-three minute song. However, like another Heavy Blog member so brilliantly articulated, Conan’s contributions to the stoner doom pantheon are just bite-sized Dopesmoker’s. To extrapolate further, Conan is a little less stoner and a little more doom than Sleep, in that they don’t seem to be too tied up in the drug culture aesthetic often associated with such thick, syrupy music. Their sound is self-described as “caveman battle doom”, and with good reason. Every detuned riff is a wooden club pummeling the listener with reckless abandon.
Conan best delivers their merciless doom beatings on 2012’s Monnos, a six track affair that catapulted them a bit further out of the underground and garnered them some favorable reviews among the more “elite” music publications. First track ‘Hawk as Weapon’ wastes no time getting to the meat and potatoes riffing–simple, droning, detuned to hell, and a bit farther removed from the blues-oriented feel of their predecessors, instead going for darker, half-step oriented, evil sounding progressions. The production values of Monnos serve the music well, and may have been the extra element needed to solidify Conan as major contenders in the sub-genre.
As far as overdriven, distorted guitar tones are concerned, it doesn’t get any heavier than this. The drums are mixed impeccably here, not to say that they’re over-produced, but that they compliment the guitars and bass perfectly in their own punchy fashion. The snare is crisp, the bass drum is detuned and round, the cymbals are present and perfectly audible to capture the various splash hits the drummer throws in. The vocals sit over the top of the heap, midrange-y, crooning, slightly sharp; more of a compliment to the music rather than a defining element. In a genre that unconditionally embraces mimicry, Conan forges their own path of caveman battle doom, intent on slowly punishing every unfortunate soul who crosses their path.
–Dan “Dan” Wieten
The Obsessed – Lunar Womb
While most of our picks for this list have been fairly recent and certainly owe a lot to the weed-fueled riffage of Sleep, this list wouldn’t be complete without a little bit of old school doom! Though The Obsessed’s frontman Wino has been infamous within the scene for decades now thanks to his amazing vocal contributions in Saint Vitus, the former has often been overlooked outside of this very insular subgenre of heavy music.
While the band had been in several different incarnations since the late 70s, it wasn’t until the group decided to reform with bassist Scott Reeder (who you may know from a few small band called Kyuss) that the band really came into their own. The Obsessed had gathered quite a cult following amongst fans of both punk and metal and then dropped the instant classic Lunar Womb in 1991, laying down some of the finest Iommian riffs at the time. Hell, it’d probably be a pretty safe claim to say that it was even better than the debut record Sleep dropped in the same year!
Lunar Womb is an absolute behemoth of an album, sporting tons of memorable choruses, freak-out jam sections galore, and arguably some of Wino’s greatest vocal takes ever. Pair that with the album artwork of Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son,” and you’ve got yourself an absolutely essential piece of heavy metal. If this is a refresher for you, go back, spark up, and get lost in the riffs all over again. And if it isn’t, let this be your call to action.
Slabdragger – Rise Of The Dawncrusher
If you forgive this London band’s propensity for speeding songs up halfway through, they’re an ideal fit for fans of Sleep. Not just capable of dropping gargantuan stoner riffs, Slabdragger fuck with the density of their tracks with layer upon layer of fat, smokey guitar and on their most recent offering, Rise Of The Dawncrusher, they’ve found the perfect strain of smoked out doom. Load a bowl, roll a joint or however you partake. This is music to get high as shit to.
Spanning five tracks but lasting nearly an hour, some of the tracks on. Dawncrusher will take you to the same places that Matt Pike’s sleepy, indica riffs took you way back when. Although a bit more full on in terms of the vocal delivery and the ferocity that some of these riffs blast out, this is stoner/doom royalty in the making. As well regarded as a live band that Sleep are, I’ve caught Slabdragger live on more than one occasion now and I’d push them up to the heights of the legends themselves. No pressure boys.
Jam “Shrine of Debauchery” and tell me it doesn’t send thick, lazy chills up your spine. Spacey, loud and containing one of the most evil riffs I’ve heard in years, this track is the perfect stoner track. I’m allowed to authorise this because, yes, I smoke weed. I don’t know if Slabdragger do, but the music that they play makes me want to. It’ll make you reach for the bud too. At the very least it will hang your head down and inspire horn throwing. Just don’t get scared by how thick this record sounds because you haven;t worked out how to channel your inner smoke demon yet.