Thursday 13 February 2020

Major Kong - Off the Scale (2020)

Country: Poland
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 24 Jan 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives

On Robots Building Robots Building Robots, the opening track of their fourth album, Major Kong are a pretty straightforward stoner rock trio. They create riff after riff and plug them together like a box of Lego blocks to generate a quality instrumental. And, as a relatively clean power trio, it's easy to hear every band member's contribution, with Michał "Jamioł" Skuła's guitar a highly obvious lead, but Dominik "Domel" Stachyra's fuzzy bass roaming about behind it and Paweł "Bolek" Zmarlak's drums up front and almost riffing too by the end of the song.

It feels like they've been playing together for a while and they have. These three musicians have been around since 2007 as the core of Fifty Foot Woman. When their vocalist left them after a self-titled album in 2010, they chose to continue on as an instrumental trio under a new name, selected I presume from Slim Pickens's role in Dr. Strangelove. Four albums, three EPs and two split releases later, I think they made the right choice.

They stay stoner rock after that opener with riffs so consistent that we're left with the impression that they don't actually need to write songs; they could just climb on stage, pick up their instruments and jam for an hour to the same effect. I'm sure that's not what they did or we'd be seeing half a dozen albums a year but they seem that confident and secure in their style. They do veer a little into space rock at times, but keep riffs at the heart of everything they do, never getting wildly psychedelic.

They also find something interesting to do in each song to keep the core of their sound fresh. Fading Memory of the Planet Earth starts out in standard fashion but shifts from heavy to jaunty and back and that jaunty section is a delight. Radical Droid adds some effects and more quieter sections; I love the build back after the last one. Bionic Revolution, even at a skimpy three minutes, sees Skuła brighten up his guitar tone, finding an Iron Maiden-like guitar style for the second half while the swirly spacy effects take us home.

The Takeover is punky in its riffing, almost like another punk cover of a TV theme song for a while, but it builds really well. Stachyra gets moments in the spotlight here to riff on his bass. Stoner rock is all about riffs but I don't think I've heard a band so relentlessly focused on them. There are few moments here that aren't riffs, because nobody really wants to solo; they're happy just moving from riff to riff to riff to riff.

The influences they list on their Facebook About page are interesting to me, because they're heavier than Major Kong are. The obvious one, of course, is Black Sabbath because, duh, stoner rock and there are overt Sabbath moments on The Takeover and also in bass runs on Night Out in Absorbia, but they're not everywhere here. The Melvins make sense too, though I don't know them as well as the others.

But then there's Rush, which is surprising because there's very little prog here, and an unusual trio of extreme metal bands: doom metallers Candlemass, avant-garde thrash/prog outfit Voivod and technical thrashers Coroner. Those are great bands but I'm hardly hearing any of them here. Sure, there's some Candlemass on the doomy sections in One Step from the Void, but not overtly and not throughout. Voivod and Coroner? I'm not hearing them at all.

Those names do make me wonder if Major Kong's sound has evolved quite a bit during the last decade. Metal Archives lists them as stoner/doom metal and their first two albums feature the word "doom" in their titles: Doom for the Black Sun and Doom Machine. Until the heavier last song, I'd call this rock rather than metal but it sounds good whatever name we give it. Never mind a half hour running time, I could listen to them for hours at a time churning through their endless repertoire of quality riffs.

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