Back in September, which seems so long ago now, I happened upon an album review by Angry Metal Guy. It was for a stoner rock album by a band named Volcanova. I actually didn’t read the review itself at the time, mostly because I was intrigued by its phenomenal cover art. A parody of picturesque sunny California beach postcards, there’s a skelly dude shooting the motherfucking curl of a dirty amber colored ocean wave, beer bottle in hand and not a care in its mind as its other hand holds up a pinky out, thumb up ‘hang loose‘ sign. ‘Now, this looks like my kind of shit,’ I said to myself.
Just like the beach sands littered with empty aluminum cans on the cover, stoner music is a pretty dense arena to enter these days. Sure, you smoke weed, but what are your riffs like? Do you harness the groove to make us move? You have a gimmick? Volcanova didn’t seem terribly concerned with much of this as they turned out Radical Waves, the aforementioned album that dropped on August 21, 2020 via The Sign Records. They just wanted to make great music that put a great emphasis on melody, catchiness, and fun. Mission accomplished – Radical Waves became my favorite stoner album of 2020 and even with two full months left, it’s looking to stay that way. I reached out to the trio in search of some higher education about their work and they were happy to oblige!
In an effort to not bury the lede any longer, it must be mentioned that Volcanova hail from Reykjavík, Iceland, a place not exactly known for having a temperate or arid climate as their music might imply. If nothing else, the band are proof positive that music transcends any potential boundary – don’t have hot summer temperatures to frame your desert rock project? No problem. Who says you can’t have a grim and frostbitten black metal band in a humid, tropical climate after all. It does, however, beg the question of how the band landed on this particular type of music to play and, like most good bands, it all starts with some good old-fashioned influence. Sam, guitarist and lead vocalist for the band, reflects on his early days of learning to play:
‘I got into music when I picked up the guitar – my uncle had just begun learning and I found the interest of also learning. Following the countless garage jam sessions with my uncle, I discovered all the big bands like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Pantera, and so on. Later on, I started digging deeper and discovered all kinds of subgenre bands like Sleep, Nails, Converge, Mastodon, Gojira, and ongoing. I’ve always been a fan of many different subgenres, but the one genre that talked to me the most was stoner/rock and [I] kind of created my own playing style from that. Also I took a couple of semesters in my local music school.’
Volcanova were actually originally founded a long while ago in 2014, first as a duo and side-project from Sam’s primary focus, an indie rock band. A bassist came aboard and they set out to play some gigs and record an EP that never saw the light of day, but things were different back then. ‘The style of these first years was more progressive metal rather than stoner rock,’ he says. The current lineup, and one that appears on Radical Waves, formed later in 2017 and includes Dagur on drums, and Steini on bass. A strong musical bond between the three showed itself immediately with them all having similar music taste and a common goal in putting out some slamming stoner rock. This was a bit of a rebirth and official founding for the band not only because of the more solidified lineup, but also because all the songs from Radical Waves were written by this trio, save for “Mountain” which was a holdover from the past. Good call since it’s a great one.
Back when I wrote my review for the album, I decided to take a… very non-traditional approach to it. I was compelled – possessed, if you will – to just divebomb into a headcanon concept that Volcanova‘s music was about hell, if hell were an island resort that you couldn’t leave, equal parts leisurely and deadly. As a result, I didn’t actually talk much about the music, something that didn’t seem to bother the band too much thankfully. While I’ll avoid doing a full-on second take for a review here, just indulge me a bit.
First of all, every damn song on Radical Waves is amazingly proficient at being catchy. Stoner rock and metal really places guitar at the top of the priority list in terms of quality of writing and presentation, but everything here has ample moments to shine. Bass is mixed well, drums have nice snap to them, and the vocals stick out just as much as the guitars do. It’s impossible to hear the riffs of “Super Duper Van” and not want to hum along. Likewise, the slower, doomed approach “Stoneman Snowman” takes is equally memorable, just with that extra weight and a pace that ensures you don’t miss a single beat.
One of the reasons I wrote the review the way I did, aside from just being a wildcard with occasional good ideas, was the whole of Radical Waves just seemed to speak and sing of a special place. A mythos was being spun by the trio of a place you could go – willingly or not – where the beer flows freely, palm trees yielded the finest weed naturally possible, and there’s always a party going on somewhere. Not an ideal place for my sober, worsening knees, but hey, it was nice to imagine. The thing is, as far as I could tell, this wasn’t a concept record nor was it even deliberately attempting to build this world. It was all very much a subtlety enhanced by my own imagination, a mental picture painted with the rocking brushstrokes of songs like “Sushi Sam” and the aforementioned “Mountain”.
I wasn’t the only one to take note too – Radical Waves enjoyed some good press and plugs from other sites, most notably (besides us of course 😉 ) Angry Metal Guy. They, admittedly, weren’t as in love with it as I was, as I eventually found out when I read it, but the band took it all in stride and with appreciation. When asked how it felt to see all the reactions, Steini remarked it was all ‘pretty awesome, we have had a lot of fantastic reviews in all kinds of magazines and websites, although that review from Angry Metal Guy was probably the worst one we got, hah, but it was quite funny and enjoyable in a weird way.‘
Bringing Radical Waves to life was quite an endeavor – after all, they were working on it since 2017. As far as endeavors go though, it did seem to be one of relative ease according to both Sam and Steini.
‘We are really open when it comes to the writing process. It is different how [each] song gets written. Sometimes some of us bring a riff or a full song idea to practice or some great ideas come together through jam sessions. We do bounce some ideas to our friends, just some sloppy phone recordings, but it’s nice to have a little feedback on new jams. We´ve also recorded some demos as possible candidates for our next album, which we have shown to our friends to get a little feedback.’
Next album, you say… I’m in.
Being from Iceland, and me not knowing a whole lot about it, I wondered if there were any cultural or even geographical influences found in their music. Sam indulges, ‘“Mountain” is the only song from Radical Waves you could connect to Icelandic landscape and old myth stories about trolls and the hidden people.‘ Aside from that, he admits that the best riffs can come from leaving your comfort zone – ‘…I have written riffs that draw influence from the nature and surroundings, sometimes the best riffs come with the change of environment, leaving the city for a little while and write in the countryside.‘
Yet another element that makes Volcanova stand out immensely is their penchant for fun. I love fun bands, ones that take to writing tongue-in-cheek or lighthearted lyrics, play with comedic tones, or simply show that they’re having fun with what they do. It only takes one look at the band’s music videos to see they’re all about that. “Super Duper Van” is an excursion out into space fueled by mysterious super duper juice found in the middle of the street. After taking a forbidden sip, they take a trip to the moon in a souped-up van to confirm that the cheese myth is, in fact, true before fighting a very familiar looking granny back on earth.
“Sushi Sam” shows a little story about a pescatarian Lucifer whose true form seems to be kept at bay by eating sushi. Important to know, seeing as a devil walking on the streets would be… weird. I mean, not to me – I’m no bigot. When asked about the entertaining quality of their videos and whether or not the devil will make a return in future ones, Sam and Steini said:
‘You never know? We had a lot of fun shooting those videos for “Sushi Sam” and “Super Duper Van”. We will probably keep on doing something really silly and fun for coming videos. Silliness is fun and it will always come with the band, but it would also be fun to try a little more seriousness in our approach to our videos.‘
It’s clear that the Volcanova boys are creative, so I was curious how a video for the band would go if they had unlimited resources, if space was truly the limit, and let me tell you, Steini’s answer didn’t disappoint. ‘We would definitely have a pool party on the moon, and everyone would be invited, who wouldn’t be up for that? Imagine stacks of sushi and the devil wearing a bikini, sounds like a perfect recipe for that video.‘ Dave Grohl would be on the guest list as he’s ‘probably the nicest man in rock ‘n’ roll‘ – a bold alternative as far as celebrity hangs would be to ‘just have a night out with Black Sabbath in the seventies, although it would be a really bad idea.‘ I’m… inclined to agree considering how hard they went.
As alluded to before, the lyrics definitely don’t take themselves seriously, but what was their favorite? When asked what lyrics the band was the most proud of, Sam had a very functional answer: ‘We tend to write really silly lyrics as some have heard. It’s hard to say because most of it is marvelous nonsense. I’m pretty proud of the “Super Duper Van” lyrics. I relate to those lyrics because of my interest for vans and wanting my own VW van, haha.’
Lots of stoner music is rather minimalist by modern rock and metal standards. Rarely do you see anything outside of the standard rock band lineup of singer, guitarist, bassist, and drummer – Volcanova drift close to those lines as well, incorporating some cowbell or tambourine for good measure. Surely there had to be something they’d like to try in the future though, right? Sam ponders, ‘I have always wanted to get more into synthesizers; we do have a little bit of synths on Radical Waves like in “Stoneman Snowman” and “Lights” and maybe we will add some synths on our next album, you’ll never know!‘ If they could work with anyone, Sam chooses a stoner/desert rock legend: ‘Would be a dream come true to work with Josh Homme and his bandmates in the Queens of the Stone Age.‘
Maybe stoner rock isn’t for everyone. It’s a genre that isn’t nearly as varied or expressive as others, but its rich history has allowed bands to play with its tropes in supremely fun ways. Even though Volcanova are only one album in, I consider them one of my favorites in the vast, hazy sea of artists out there. As the band looks ahead, something hard to do with so much uncertainty still dangling in the air, Sam expresses some understandable rancor for the pandemic as many, many bands have before.
‘We really want to get out there and tour. It is a shame we could not do a tour following the release of Radical Waves and also had to postpone our release show two times already, but it is how it is. We aren’t the only ones experiencing it, but the whole world, haha. We have kept our heads up and also stayed busy during these difficult times by writing new material for the second album.‘
Along those lines, the final word from the band is grateful with a delightful twist at the end:
‘Big thanks to all of our fans and people that stand with us, believe in us, and have bought the album and listened to it! Show support to your local artist by buying their merch because it’s never been more important to do so during these difficult times!
And remember kids! Life’s a party and then you die.’