With an abundance of artists who sound more or less exactly the same, it can take some digging to find the gems hidden amongst the bong-infused haze of the stoner rock underground. Sabbath and Sleep worship is almost always at the very least fun, but there’s not much point listening to countless imitators if they can’t at least try to match those bands for sheer talent, creativity or innovation.
You could be forgiven for giving up on delving through the genre’s jam-packed halls looking for those worth hearing, so to take some of the busy-work out of the search, we’ve put together this list of little-known stoner metal and rock bands that are well worth your time. Some put new spins on old techniques or aim to revamp the genre entirely, whilst others are simply too good to miss. Follow the smoke to the riff-filled land.
With waves of fuzz and stoner grooves complimented by some excellent psychedelic guitar flourishes, Indonesia’s Shroom Eater are one of the more dynamic names on this list, with a style that feels at once familiar and yet refreshingly new. Blending a garage rock tone with the infectious hooks of stoner rock and the heavy fuzz of sludge, the band’s sole release to date, AD.INVENTUM, is one of the best and most creative bouts of stoner rock we’ve heard for some time. Do not give this one a miss!
There’s something about stoner rock from the desert that just feels authentic. These Albuquerque newcomers only have two tracks to their name thus far, but they’re already flaunting a more accomplished sound than some who’ve been around for years. Their self-titled demo sounds great for a first release, with a meaty guitar tone helping their impressive riffs to pack a punch. The glorious solos and lumbering grooves displayed here suggest some impressive songwriting chops, so we’re excited to see what’s on the horizon for this fledgling outfit.
This Montreal trio are the perpetrators of a distinct strain of psychedelic stoner sludge that doesn’t so much drift like smoke as it does bubble like bong water, with guitarist Tony Ross’ submerged vocals driving home the band’s aquatic inspirations. Lochness’ 2019 LP Black Smokers lures you in with relentlessly infectious grooves and a delightfully fuzzy tone, before engulfing you in waves of hypnotic riffs. Awesome stuff.
Did you know stoner metal is associated with weed? Well this portmanteau-loving band, whose name is French for “swamps”, will do their darndest to remind you. The vinyl edition of their 2019 album, Marais Juana – Une Ode Cannabique, even comes wrapped in an oversized “baggie”. It’s also one of the heaviest things we’ve ever heard, despite it boasting an onslaught of catchy grooves. The riffs are built like a truck, hitting with the sort of guttural thud normally reserved for death-doom, with ultra-thick basslines and scratchy growls adding to the grisly aura. From the hypnotic churn of ‘Nauséabong’ to the horrific hammer blows of ‘Cannabysse – Entourbé’, this is stoner sludge at its filthy best.
If stoner rock is all about the riffs for you, then look no further than Ursus Quaver. This Budapest-born band set their stall out early, with their debut self-titled release kicking off with the hard rocking gallop of ‘Soul’. From there on out, there’s nary a dull moment to be found. There’s always a solid riff around the next corner, and the band show their quality at crafting steadier tracks on slow-burning centrepiece ‘New Girl’ and dynamic closer ‘Daylight/Snowblind’, on which one of the band’s original tracks slowly morphs into a Black Sabbath cover. With a bit of refinement, this band could be huge.
Ocean City’s Dirt Woman utilise a transfixing strain of stoner doom to express concerns about the future of our planet, with lyrics addressing global warming and the current political climate, not to mention the apathy and contempt of those in charge. Debut album The Glass Cliff is a stoner metal delight, combining influences from across the genre to emerge with a sound exemplifying all of its strengths with none of its drawbacks. The adventurous but lackadaisical riffs of Sleep, the doomy atmosphere of early Black Sabbath, the otherworldly allure of Windhand – it’s all here, operating in tandem like a doom Megazord. For more on the band, check out this interview.
Gandalf The Green
Tolkien’s writings tell us that he was very much averse to the idea of his works getting the Disney treatment and being bastardised to appeal to a younger audience – but as far as we know there’s nothing in there about writing stoner sludge inspired by a key character. As the debate about whether the hobbits smoked actual weed (most likely not, unfortunately) continues, one West Yorkshire trio have taken the idea and run with it, imagining a Gandalf more concerned with getting high than saving the world. The resulting sound is more fun than Bilbo’s 111th birthday party, with the band’s 14-minute single ‘A Billion Faces’ showing their songwriting talent. It’s a psych-fuelled trudge through swampy grooves and Balrog-sized waves of distortion, sure to grab any stoner fan’s attention. Sit back with some Old Toby and enjoy.
This Greek band’s strain of stoner metal is more Weedeater than Orange Goblin, favouring a steady hypnotic pace over the lively energy of more accessible bands. There’s a sense of malice as Okwaho’s hefty guitars drag each track onwards, but amongst all the gloom is an undeniable knack for melody that helps their songs worm their way into your brain and stick around long after the churning groove of closer ‘For Those I Hate’ finally trudges to a stop. Not to mention that in ‘Kill All Them Fascists’ (“We won’t show any tolerance to bastards born out of Adolf’s ass”), the stoner scene has a new anti-fascist anthem.
If the gruff, lackadaisical vocals used by many stoner bands help give the music a carefree tone, then Nina Saeidi’s soaring howls propel the genre into the stratosphere. As vocalist for UK progressive stoner doom outfit Lowen, Saeidi’s commanding croons dominate proceedings, but the enchanting music behind her voice certainly does its fair share of the heavy lifting too. This is doom at its most adventurous, with the band crafting a unique style that drifts from dramatic, brazen highs to soft, pensive lows with remarkable skill.
If you thought all possible band names featuring the word wizard had already been taken, just wait until newcomers realise they can purposely misspell it. This Spanish trio boast a commanding style, with tons of infectious hooks and the uncanny ability to warp a riff into a swirling maelstrom of beguiling psychedelia. Fans of Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats will find lots here to love, but with a diverse sound and a penchant for weaving epic fantasy narratives into their albums, Wicked Wizzard do more than enough to stand out on their own merits.
As much as innovation and exploration can be exciting and refreshing, sometimes we come to stoner rock for the simple thrill of music that’s fun, heavy and catchy as all hell. That’s not to say stoner rock can’t be both, however. Ohio’s DirtWorship waste no time beating around the bush, instead diving headfirst into the sort of weighty riffs sure to get any head nodding along, but their sound also takes some intriguing left-field turns over the course of their recently released self-titled album. Occasionally the band see fit to ramp up the intensity, the gruff vocals becoming more like hardcore yells, whilst at others they broaden their sound, allowing it to take on an expansive psychedelic aura. Good stuff, this.
The Astral Void
With a debut album released just this April, Richmond, VA’s The Astral Void deal in fuzzy doom of the most chilling nature, with bewitching vocals, subtly poignant lead guitars and psychedelic synths that lend the release an otherworldly atmosphere. If you prefer your stoner metal lighthearted in tone, then the gloomy nature of this band’s slow-burning music probably won’t whet your appetite, but allow it to work its magic and you’ll soon find yourself transfixed by this exciting addition to the American stoner/doom scene.
Creating instrumental metal can be tough at the best of times, let alone when you’re writing thirteen-minute stoner rock epics. This French outfit keep things interesting by paying homage to progressive stoner rock acts like Elder whilst honouring the ‘70s rock from which the genre sprang, and recording live to retain an air of spontaneity. Their new album is due in October of this year but lead single ‘C2’ can be heard now, whilst their self-titled debut and 2018 live album can also be picked up on Bandcamp.
Whilst this list could easily feature half of the APF Records roster, we’ve limited it to just two (the other being Gandalf The Green, if you’re wondering). Manchester bruisers Nomad offer up a meaty, grisly merging of stoner and sludge, but one that delights in offering a nonstop of deluge of catchy-as-fuck hooks. Whilst your average metal fan might pretend that the genre is primarily ferocious and inaccessible, Nomad remind us that it can be fun and groovy whilst still being tough as nails. The band make no real attempts at innovation, because quite frankly you don’t need to when the riffs are this damn good.
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Words: George Parr