Terminal by BongripperRelease date: July 6, 2018
Label: Great Barrier Records
Bongripper are often spoken of as the doom band’s doom band, an outfit so pure of purpose and mammoth of riff that hordes of red-eyed touring bands speak of them in hushed tones in toilet venues the world over. Whatever your opinion on doom as a genre props must be given to them for the way they go about their business – they record and mix everything in their own Comatose Studios, release them on their own Great Barrier Records and tour the world with no label backing and no compromise. They’re about as close to being the stoner rock Fugazi as you’re ever likely to see, albeit one considerably less fussed about gig ticket prices as they are constructing monolithic riffscapes.
Their music is as pure as their DIY ethos. Terminal, Bongripper’s 7th album, comes 4 years after 2014’s Miserable and picks up pretty much where it left off. There’s not much in the way of progression on display – if anything they seem to have gotten less adventurous over the years, with the more experimental, genre hopping nature of Hippie Killer and Hate Ashbury having been largely left in the past. There’s not much that will surprise listeners here: there isn’t a build that doesn’t lead to a cathartic section of monstrous guitar heroics, and it’s not like they’re about to be throwing in any acid jazz or wild electronic elements at this stage of the game. No, Terminal is simply a further distillation of what makes Bongripper Bongripper, a small refinement of the mould, 2 tracks of military grade slow handed riffery embellished only by some ambient moments and some fiercely moody second guitar.
And that’s all they need. Some say the trick is not to give your audience what they want. Bongripper say instead: let them eat riffs.
And what riffs. In the arms race between doom/sludges lairiest bastards to develop the nastiest, filthiest sound out there Bongripper have been stockpiling dirty bombs since 2006. There are guitar tones deployed on Terminal that sound like by-products of a secret military plan to destroy the sun. But despite the miserable song titles Terminal actually sounds almost triumphant for a large chunk of it’s run time. Once the shimmering synth drones that open the record are dispensed with ‘Slow’ sounds more like celebratory riff worship than misery doom, like choir practice at the Church of the One Riff. It comes down on you like an ice storm with hailstones the size of well fed Alsations, picks up momentum for a time before dropping out altogether into a clean guitar section. The melancholy sets in and things start to gradually build. And then the riff comes in. And it is massive.
And so it goes throughout the records 40 minute run time. Despite being split into 2 tracks – ‘Slow’ and ‘Death’ – it could easily be one piece. You get the feeling they only put an ambient interlude in so that they could find a fitting moment for listeners to flip the vinyl over. 40 minutes is as close as Bongripper get to brevity however and further listens reveal just how impressively lean a pair of 20 minute instrumental doom tracks can get in their hands. The little refinements to the formula start to shine through – the understated synth drone that backs the clean guitar build on ‘Slow’, the almost post-rock guitar towards the tracks end which sounds like it could have been cut from a Russian Circles jam – it all adds up to Bongripper’s most focused and immediately satisfying record yet.
The basics are as on point as you’d expect after 12 years of practice – drummer Daniel O’Connor’s tub thumping is as hard and metronomic as a pile driver, a single minded, slow motion beatdown, though in ‘Death’ he gets a chance to pick up the pace for a muscular, kinetic section at the tracks midpoint that feels like being driven through a storm of swirling guitar. But for majority of Terminal it’s all about the bang of the head on the beat of the drum. The righteous bass-heavy distortion that shakes you down to your boots. Bongripper are veterans now and they haven’t so much carved out a niche down in those low, demonically fuzzed out tones as they have built a humble empire. And now there aren’t many who come close to playing them as well.