Since Josh Homme and Kyuss spread stoner rock from California to the rest of the world in the early 90s, an underground stoner revolution has been going on across Europe.
Maybe you’ve never heard of stoner rock, or maybe you’re a big fan but no one else around you likes it. Maybe no stoner rock bands appear at major festivals or on television. YouTube won’t recommend new stoner bands for you; Spotify won’t put a stoner rock song on your weekly recommendations. You won’t hear a stoner song at random on the radio. You won’t see a poster for a stoner rock concert on the street. Maybe you’ll never even hear or read about stoner rock again in your life after reading this column. However, stoner rock is in fact in its golden age, and keeps on getting bigger, better and different.
Stunning new albums are coming out every day, new bands are stepping onto the stage, and stoner-rock-specific festivals are taking place around all Europe: Red Smoke and Asymmetry in Poland, Void Fest, Freak Valley, Keep It Low and Stoned From the Underground in Germany, Krökbacken in Sweden, Into the Void and Roadburn in the Netherlands and Desertfest in Belgium. Unlike the situation in almost all other genres, there are no mainstream bands, festivals or dominating styles as such. There’s no equivalent of Metallica or Megadeth in metal, Rihanna in R&B, or Taylor Swift in pop music; there’s no equivalent of Glastonbury, Wacken or Tomorrowland. Every band, every festival and every style carries on its own legacy and creates its own unique sound.
Country by country, here’s a rundown of some stoner bands well worth listening to.
From Greece, we have Naxatras and Burn the Sun; for sure, Greek bands are my favorites in the genre.
Naxatras’s music has a progressive structure and a psychedelic sound. The band’s vocals aren’t great, but they have a very cool guitar sound with delay and reverb effects over a clean setup. They use fuzz effects much less than do other stoner bands.
Burn the Sun’s songs offer a good example of stoner music with vocals. While they do create instrumental-based songs, they use vocals more than other bands and are really good at mixing vocals and instruments within a song. Their guitar work features all the characteristics of stoner sound, with heavy distortion and fuzz effects.
From Germany, we have Kalamata, Sleeping Widow and Electric Moon.
Kalamata uses no vocals; their style is a mixture of post-rock and classic stoner rock with psychedelic elements and a heavy sound. They achieve this very specific synthesis quite successfully in their music. Courtesy of this synthetic style, all the journeys in the individual songs in their albums ultimately turn into a greater one.
Sleeping Widow is the only example of a band using male and female vocals together that I’ve come across in stoner music so far. While this is already enough to create a unique perspective on stoner rock, they also carry over to today the guitar sounds of the ’80s and ’90s, with pure distortion and very few additional effects.
Electric Moon is another flag carrier of the instrumental-only stoner bands. Their most distinguishing characteristic is the use of heavy effects in their guitar sound. Moreover, their songs are based on these effects, which actually change more than the melodies or the riffs do, both during and between the songs on an album. This creates a special style, of which there are almost no other examples.
From France, we have Red Bowling Ball, showing us the softer side of stoner rock music. Their style is a mixture of folk, blues and stoner. The distinctive use of acoustic guitars in their music puts them at the opposite end of the stoner rock spectrum from Electric Moon.
From England, we have Red Spektor, again with a different style than all the other bands we’ve talked about. They have a fast-paced, catchy sound that relies heavily on both vocals and guitar riffs. They carry the same sound and musical style through all the songs on each of their albums, which makes them very integrated. However, while this increases the ease of listening to their albums as a whole, it also increases the chance of boring the audience.
From Denmark, we have Cause Sui, which could be called the opposite of Red Spektor. While they have some fast songs, most of their songs are calm and spiritual, and unlike that of Red Spektor, their style is not stationary; it changes from song to song. One may be full of fast-paced power chords, and then the next two will have very calm riffs, with soft drum accompaniment and a halved tempo.
From Sweden, we have Truckfighters. This is another band that’s good at both vocals and instruments, with a heavy sound and long guitar solos. While the main architecture remains constant, the song structure, guitar sounds and vocal types change with every track, such that their albums offer very a satisfying yet integrated listening experience.
And finally, from Ukraine, we have Stoned Jesus: the band that blessed all stoner rock addicts with “I’m the Mountain.” A full stoner journey of 13 minutes, this is probably one of the few songs coming out of the genre in the recent past to have gotten a lot of attention. Stoned Jesus is very good at starting a song at a basic point and slowly developing new ideas around that point until the music arrives at the maximum stoner sound a stoner trio can reach.
There are also many other good stoner rock bands from Europe to discover; and many brand-new bands from different countries and different cultures, with different styles and different sounds, are still emerging. We’re truly living in the golden age of stoner rock, and let’s hope it won’t come to an end any time soon.