Because I’m lazy and I live in Amsterdam, writing this review took a little longer than planned. That’s absolutely no worry though, as I can now read all the other reviews and see what ‘they’ are saying. This gives me the distinct advantage of knowing that whatever I say will never really matter because it is evident that ‘they’ all think Bong’s new album (entitled We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been) is a wonderful masterpiece of droning, eastern sounding psychedelia. You can read all of the other reviews for the by now familiar description of ‘ritual’ and ‘simplistic slow sound’ and ‘lysergic spaced out spliffriffian doom tactics filtered through opium-infested Dunsany worship’ or whatever. I’m going to be a little bit more critical than ‘they’ were. Just a tad though. I’m not gonna be too serious because this is a band that takes not being serious very seriously. A little introduction might be in order.
Bong play a singular, droning, oriental/mystical sounding version of what is meant to be krautrock. A bit like early Earth, or Hawkwind on opium, but with a doomy, slightly jamming rhythm section and extra thickness and eastern instruments going on. Oh, and of course there’s the fact they all started doing this thing post-Come My Fanatics, post-Dopesmoker and post-all-those-other-modern-masterpieces. Most of their stuff is wholly improvised, though one or two riffs are pretermined per song. And they keep those riffs. They keep droning at ‘em till you can’t feel your body anymore and you feel like you’re taking a mystical holiday in an Indian temple on some moon off Arcturus somewhere. In short, Bong are about a simple idea.
As such, writing a critical review about Bong is like writing a review about a giant slab of stone: the stone doesn’t care what you write because whatever you write, the stone’s job description is never, ever going to change. And some people just like to worship rocks, it’s that simple. No metaphorical geologist would be of any use to either the stone or the worshipper.
That being said, there might be a few things to say about this album. It consists of two new tracks entitled Time Regained and Find Your Own Gods. The first one is classic Bong: it opens up with droning bass, shahi-baaja flourishes conjuring the Arabian Nights atmosphere, and the song takes off on the characteristic slow mystical dirge for its decidedly short duration (only sixteen minutes!). Find Your Own Gods, however, has a few new tricks up its sleeve: it opens up with a gong (ha!) and a few spoken lines, then starts building up a riff with chiming wah-guitar while a certain crystalline synth sound keeps returning to the fold, making the entire atmosphere that much more effective at achieving immersion. This is all happening while the bass, shahi-baaja and drums do their usual minimalistic march, and I salute Bong for developing their sound.
In fact, the band should be lauded for two things: their effort to develop their sound and their effort to reduce the rhythms and progressions to even simpler, more effective versions of what they already did. Mike Smith especially refined his drum game to just the pure, simple, half-jamming version that the music needs. It gives all the other instruments that much more definition, like the low-mixed drums on Come My Fanatics did once.
To the initiated, I’ll say this: Bong have done their thing again, a balance being struck between their path of sounding almost clean on Mana-Yood-Sushai and adding new phasers and thickness on Stoner Rock. It’s a lot like a hifiversion of Beyond Ancient Space except, well, not as heavy, and not as filled with actual weird riffs, and with fewer sudden jam pyrotechnics. Ah, none of that’s a surprise given the fact that Beyond Ancient Space was recorded in the warm afterglow of a lovely collective acid binge. For reals.
So to the uninitiated, I’ll say this: go buy Beyond Ancient Space. Then buy all the other ones if you like that one. Nuthin’ like a little variety, as my editor would say.
Scribed by: Jochem Visser