Wednesday 25 March 2020

Stonus - Aphasia (2020)

Country: Cyprus
Style: Stoner Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

As if we needed any more proof that heavy stoner/doom rock is alive and well and continuing to spread across the globe, here are Stonus, who are Cypriots from Nicosia, even though they've apparently been based in London since 2018 and they recorded the album in Greece. This is killer stuff, six tracks that take us on a psychedelic trip that's bookended rather nicely.

Awake starts things out heavy and betrays a lot of influences. There's blues here, especially in the midsection, and it's psychedelic blues with a really good mix. There's space rock here too, the song often sounding like Hawkwind but without all the synths. Just to make it even more interesting, it's also about as sleazy as I've ever heard stoner rock get. The genre is versatile.

And it needs to be on a thematic concept album like this one. Aphasia is the inability to understand words not because they're not known but because the brain has forgotten how to connect them with their meaning. This album is an attempt to "imitate the mental disorder in a more spiritual and personal perception".

The title track is a little clearer because that's an Ozzy vocal through and through, though the music backing it doesn't play in the expected territory of early Black Sabbath. Sure, it's heavy and doomladen but it doesn't feel like an homage at all. It's more like what a different band might have done in 1970 or 1971 if they'd had the same influences as Sabbath but chose to go in a slightly different direction.

And then it gets really interesting because Mania gets all patient. This one absolutely captivated me, kicking off with a liquid guitar that's relatively standard for stoner rock but then pausing suddenly and beautifully as a hint for the rest of the band to crunch in all together. Rather than finding one riff to build the song, it quietens down massively and goes dreamlike first. While it does ramp up late with some excellent soloing, Mania is as notable for what it doesn't do as what it does.

Fortunately, Nadir, the longest track on offer at eight and a half minutes, follows suit. It starts out with a guitar mimicking Pink Floyd electronica, then moves into a stoner chillout zone that somehow remains a little chill even as it escalates into something more powerful. When the vocals show up, we suddenly realise how long we've been without them, this band being just as effective instrumentally as when Kyriacos Frangoulis exercises his voice. There's certainly some Sabbath here this time out, but the trippiest Sabbath you can imagine.

If you think we might be missing the riffs, Stonus add plenty back on Dead End, but the vocals stay in that hallucinatory trip mindset. There's also an effect applied to them that makes them seem closer to the guitar. Depending on how deep we've dived into this, that proximity in tone adds another level to the psychedelic nature of the trip. The frantic harmonics towards the end are cool too.

And that leaves Ghost Town to take us home by combining the Ozzy vocals from Aphasia with the chillout trip of Nadir, over a very Sabbath-esque bass line from Andreas Aristides. Eventually it ends up back in Hawkwind territory, a driving trip but again without any synths to space it out. We're almost back where we started and that's a great moment to just let the album play again.

I believe this is the debut full length for Stonus, though they've put out a couple of EPs, Lunar Eclipse in 2018 and a single called Sweetspot late last year. Given how excellent this is, I'm eager to check those out while I wait for the band's follow up to Aphasia.

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