Review / Bongtower – Oscillator

Space (both inner and outer) is a concept that’s deeply embedded within doom and stoner metal. The vastness of the cosmos perfectly compliments the genre’s love for huge, drawn-out riffs and esoteric subject matter. While numerous bands tend to use Hawkwind-esque sci-fi imagery to take the listener into the stars, Russian band Bongtower take a slightly more historical approach.

‘Oscillator’ is a concept album telling the story of the space race between the USA and USSR from the earliest manned missions by the Soviet Union, through to the moon landing and ending with the USA’s space shuttle program. The narrative is weaved through the album in a number of spoken word tracks (from ‘Phase 1’ through to ‘Phase 108’) where Victor Grigoryan of MistFolk describes the key technological and political events that led to man venturing beyond the atmosphere, over an instrumental backdrop of thundering bass and eerie synthesiser noise. 

The actual songs on the album showcase a mix of primordial riffs, documentary samples and spiralling electronic touches. ‘Voskud – 2’, named for the Soviet mission that featured the first spacewalk, is a monster of a song, erupting into a piece of grinding sludge which slowly ramps up the tension while vocalist Aleksandr Zadorojny howls into the void. Elsewhere, ‘Space Shuttle’ is the song on the album that veers closest to actual space rock. Blending death-doom growling with an eerie, clean vocal and a Sabbathian riff, the song conjures up the feeling of extreme isolation which must come from floating in the darkness. 

The album ends with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’, which was propelled up the charts in 1969 thanks to the enthusiasm for space travel following the Apollo 11 mission. Their fuzzed-out version has a certain charm to it and works conceptually, but the clean vocals and more upbeat tempo jars slightly after the extreme heavy psychedelia that comes before it. This slight misstep aside, Oscillator is an ambitious piece of work which manages to balance sonic violence with a passion for history and a flair for storytelling.   

Oscillator is out now. Order here.

Words: Dan Cadwallader