Bongripper release another colossal album to rip bongs to until they’re Empty.

Release date: April 19, 2024 | Great Barrier Records | Bandcamp | Instagram | Spotify

There is a certain charm to Bongripper that chiefly comes from their sense of humour, generally represented in their song naming conventions – from album tracklist patterns like “Hail”, “Satan”, “Worship”, and “Doom”, to stoner puns like “Reefer Sutherland”. But beyond the chuckles and the rebellious-teenaged-stoner-metalhead-appeal of their band name, underneath it all we have four musicians who craft intricate instrumentals that are as oppressively heavy as they are infectiously catchy…and yes, probably very, very good to smoke weed to.

I first heard of the group on the Google Play Music app, of all places. This was just after Southern Lord‘s 2012 reissue of Dopesmoker came out, when I was teetering on the precipice of a stoner / doom rabbit-hole. My newfound love for Sleep‘s magnum opus, coupled with the discovery Bongripper‘s 2010 absolute belter Satan Worshipping Doom had me following the smoke toward the riff-filled land, and cemented the majority of my tastes in that wheelhouse – slow, loud, repetitive, and heavy. And so, it is with excitement that I was able to lock in this review of the Chicago-based quartet’s most recent record, Empty.

Album opener “Nothing” progresses through a series of movements, feeling like a down-tuned orchestra going through an extended warm-up. What follows is a perfect sample of what the band excel at – finding dark, heavy riffs and grooves and putting them through the stoner / doom process; playing the riff again and again and again, complementing it with all manner of fills and leads and exploring the occasional musical tangent in order to highlight just how fucking cool it is. By the final quarter of the track, the band settles us into what could easily be a younger, heavier cousin to the primary riff from the Melvins‘ “Boris”, and it is gloriously, slow-noddingly good. And similar to the opening track on the latter band’s recent release Tarantula Heart, this track acts both as a fantastic example of how Bongripper write, as well as a litmus test of sorts for those unsure of whether the band or the album are for them.

“Remains” starts out slow and steady, however the track gathers momentum, building to a trem-picked lead that feels somehow exultant. This soon turns foreboding, before a stomping dirge marks the halfway point of the song. The pace quickens at the two-thirds mark, before returning to the slow and steady beat established at the top end of the track, in what feels like a ‘there-and-back-again’ journey through dark and grim territory.

I’m not sure if the band are being cheeky with the composition of the third track, which begins with a subtle riff that goes on “Forever” (ha!), until the song explodes to life at the halfway mark – a beautifully bleak guitar lead complementing the main riff, in an emotional peak that might just be my favourite cut on the record.

The title track bookends the album as the second of two 20-plus minute songs, however, unlike the album opener, “Empty” only pauses for a minute to establish mood. Not before too long, we’re greeted with a crushing crash of drums and delayed guitar leading into the riff that will take us on the final part of the album’s journey, which alternates between the steady stomp of some kind of heavy metal war machine, and blast-beats that build a sense of dread. This all builds to a maelstrom of noise before a reprise, the track and record as a whole ending in an intense, cathartic, and beautiful wall of noise.

Here, Bongripper take the repetition that plays a big part of the appeal of stoner metal, tune it down with the richness of doom, and complement the fundamental groove of each song with the texture of a number of different musical flourishes borrowed from other subgenres, ranging from post to black metal and a few others in between. All of this is accomplished with a level of songwriting craft that produces heavy-as-fuck, catchy, and evocative metal instrumentals. They’ve nailed a sound that is distinctly ‘Bongripper‘, but haven’t gotten stale, loading their music with layers to explore on repeat listens, and Empty is a fantastic showcase of all of this at play.

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