It's 2014, which means you can now legally smoke marijuana here. Of course, most of the people smoking now probably haven't been waiting patiently for the government's seal of approval to sample nature's goodness. Still, we get the feeling that the end of prohibition means there's a lot of newly minted stoners among us in search of a soundtrack. If so, you've come to the right place, my friend. We've got a list of bands for you to check out, one of which you can see in the flesh tomorrow night at the Gothic.
On the surface, metal doesn't appear to pair well with pot. It's very loud, caustic and aggressive, and it demands that you rack your body with whiplash and spinal trauma -- hardly a good time, by many people's standards. But for the musically and mentally adventurous, there is a whole world of possibility. An alien place where you must shift your perspective and develop new senses to survive. It's the world of stoner metal.
Metal is a genre of extremes. That means testing the boundaries of both speed and slothfulness, infinity stretching in both directions. Stoner metal is a broad term in today's musical climate, but it's generally used to describe any metal that falls on the slower end of the spectrum. In its purest form, stoner metal means the uber-heavy but bluesy psychedelics of Sleep (due at the Gothic Theatre this Friday, January 3), but the term now encompasses so much more. Death metal and black metal have bled into the pot, creating endless wonderful perversions of noise.
Patience isn't a virtue in a lot of music. A relatively quick payoff is expected, naturally, in the form of a chorus or a hook. Metal isn't an exception. You demand the monster riff, and while there are still plenty of those in stoner and doom metal, they don't always make themselves apparent.
Sleep is actually a pretty good place to begin the journey. Rising from the ashes of Asbestosdeath in the early '90s, Sleep combined the heaviest parts of '70s rock with previously unheard levels of distortion to create the essence of stoner metal. Sleep's 1993 album Holy Mountain sounds like Led Zeppelin stuck in a tar pit. Big riffs like the opening of "Druid" are familiar enough for more conventional rock fans, but they are heavier than lead.
Since then, of course, things have gotten even more interesting.
Seattle's Samothrace, like the Greek island it's named for, is both beautiful and imbued with tragedy. Like a lot of stoner bands, Samothrace play the blues, but not the kind you weep to rather than party over. Frontman Bryan Spinks howls with a death-ish roar over slow-burning but recognizable riffs of immense emotional substance. The effect, like on "Awkward Hearts," from 2008's Life's Trade, is breathtaking and nearly tear inducing. Though the band has the power to hurt it also has the power to be equally uplifting like on the mid-section of "When We Emerged," where the outfit suddenly transforms into a better version of early-era A Perfect Circle.
Compared to Samothrace, Liverpool's Conan sounds almost unfeeling with its minimalist riffing. This Robert E. Howard-inspired trio represents a sect of stoner metal that seeks to mine the depths of heaviness, almost to the point of parody. The gut-scraping guitar tone on its 2010 EP Horseback Battle Hammer seems like a joke at first, a poke at the very concept of heaviness. But its mammoth stoner riffs march on, trampling your consciousness into submission and eventually acceptance. Conan's subsonic vibrations, when paired with the jelly-like body high of indica strains, make for a uniquely physical listening experience.
Stepping further into even more meditative forms, we have the wonderful world of drone. In the world of drone, riffs are less about immediacy and more about atmosphere. The drift along, changing almost imperceptibly. But like shifting continents, they soon become unrecognizable. Masters of the craft like Seattle's Sunn O))) use its powers to create worlds that can be either wholly alien or utterly serene. Others, like Gnaw Their Tongues, from the Netherlands, use drone to create scenes of unimaginable horror.
Try meditating to the warped strains of Sunn O))) and see where it takes you.
Finally, if you melted down Lynyrd Skynyrd into a big vat of tar and smeared the resulting concoction on a bass amplifier, you'd get Kentucky's Weedeater. Unsurprisingly, this group calls its particular blend of sludge, "weed metal." Like Conan, the riffs are monolithic and ridiculously low, but the trio's riffs bleed country filth into your veins. Not John Denver-country, but swampy Deliverance-banjo country. Vocalist Dave "Dixie" Collins is an acquired taste, but his bonged-out wheezing has the anger and desperation of an addict.
Of course, there are schools of thought that consider all types of metal suitable for mixing with cannabis, but for the purpose of simultaneously rocking hard and expanding your mind, these will do.