Given their awkward name, it’s no surprise that Seattle-based doom merchants Lesbian have had some trouble breaking through after more that a decade of activity. Years of development in blending psychedelic prog, black metal, and sludge (not to mention a load of drugs) lead to the release of 2013’s critically praised and criminally ignored Forestelevision, an hour-long single track that hopped through various musical vignettes that paid off in a King Diamond-worshiping heavy metal climax that may as well have crowned the group as doom metal’s weirdest act.
Things have been awful quiet since then, but the band have kept busy; following up an ambitious record such as Forestelevision should take some time, and adding new vocalist Brad Mowen to the fold surely contributed a bit of an adjustment period. Three years later, the band have finally turned in the four-track conceptual powerhouse Hallucinogenesis. I’d almost be remiss to say that Lesbian have reigned in their sound given their oddball aesthetic, but compared to Forestelevision, Hallucinogenesis is a more highly focused record that grounds the band with a rule book for reference in case they meander too far into the cosmos.
Given their overt love of drugs — I mean, just look at the album title — it was only a matter of time before the band wrote an entire album that stands as an homage to mushrooms and the trips they inspire. Press materials for the record quote the band describing the record’s lyrical themes as follows:
Hallucinogenesis tells a fantastical story of a spore-filled asteroid that collides with earth and forever alters its history and the course of consciousness. The impact of this fungal explosion signals a new dawn of creation called “Pyramidal Existinctualism”. As meteorites are pulled towards the sun, they collide, levitate, circulate, then populate. One of the few survivors of this catastrophe is the Kosmoceratops. It’s time to bow to the new lord of this world.
This far-out concept is bolstered by the band’s wild take on sludge, with a sound that can be traced to Mastodon’s Leviathan (no shit, Lesbian were formed the year Leviathan dropped) and filtered through science fiction and horror and pushed to its logical extremes with influence from proper doom and hints of black metal. Opener “Pyramidal Existinctualism” runs through an alien-sounding guitar lick and places synth pads under the band’s mammoth-sized riffing to set the tone for the record to come. The 14-minute “Labrea Borealis” is a vicious ascent, briefly playing up the kind of blackened sludge that landed Vattnet Viskar‘s Settler on a number of year-end lists and ending with an ethereal post-rock passage.
“Kosmoceratops” does its title justice as a massively heavy and primitive stomp that eventually takes on a first wave black metal style. “Aqualibrium” is an epic finale that features predominately clean singing and heavy use of atmospheric keyboards that later hints at the frenzied style that made Forestelevision so fascinating once the catchy heavy metal riffing comes into play. As hoped, a variety of vocal techniques are used throughout the record (and “Aqualibrium” in particular) that keep things interesting; gravelly bellows, throaty screeches, and Gregorian-style chants come frequently, with (sadly) only a hint of that King Diamond falsetto appearing in the record’s final track.
Despite not going all-out on Hallucinogenesis, Lesbian provides a fresh twist on stoner metal. Where much of the genre’s psych-fiends dwell on slower, trudging tempos to evoke a desert or swamp-like atmosphere, Lesbian go the trippy route and embrace the wild ride of tempo and style changes and a sense of cosmic adventure. Hallucinogenesis is still the extravagantly eccentric record you’d hope to hear out of Lesbian, even if it does ground itself within the sludge metal genre.