When I saw the Bonnacons of Doom recently I was with a group of people, some of whom had not witnessed the band’s live performance before. But although I’ve seen the band play a number of times I really struggled to put my finger on what it was that made me really like them. In the end I copped out but just saying “you’ll know when you’ve seen them”. After the gig my friends admitted that I was right, a great live band… but exactly why they couldn’t say.
This is perhaps typical of a band, most of whom wear masks that have been described as many things over the years… they look a bit like hub caps to me… and, along with the black robes, give the band a certain air of mystery and detachment. As far as I know they emerged in Liverpool and took on the mantle of being something of a ‘house band’ for the city’s Psych Fest; having played there most years; always to great acclaim.
The Bonnancons have released the odd track over the years, on compilations and the like; but have never shown any signs of being the sort of band who would get together long enough to record an album… I presume the masks enable a variety of musicians to play in the band meaning that the membership is somewhat fluid. Nevertheless the have gelled (if that’s the right word) together long enough to release an LP on the ever reliable Rocket Recordings, and I have to say it’s something of a banger.
One of the reasons, I think, for the ineffability of the Bonnacons’ live performances is because of their ritualistic nature. That’s not to say that they light candles and perform rites like some bands that I’ve seen, but there is something about their music that seems to be in a space apart. From the mudras and incantations of vocalist Kate, to the heavy repetitive riffs and rhythms of the guitars and drums behind her. Add to this all manner of found sounds from different religious performances buried within the mix and you get something that is dark and powerful as well as the deep groove of most of their numbers. But as this album shows, this is not the whole story.
Opening with ‘Solus’ we are immediately thrown into the Bonnacons’ weltanschauung with a plain drum beat underneath a series of differing chants and what the band term ‘transcendental echolalia’. We are immediately plunged deep into the ritual space below and, after around three minutes, we find ourselves powering down as if charged by a thousand dentist drills penetrating into the earth in a wave of terror that almost feels like free fall banging against angular guitars as we go… normal service will not be resumed… this is alternate reality as each wave crashes more heavily on the rocks of noise each time upping the ante towards a chilling and thrilling climax… aye!
The corporeal suitably distorted ‘Argenta’ heads off as if slightly out of phase, offset by Kate’s siren-like voice calling us towards whatever lies beyond. What does actually lie beyond is a compelling blend of heavy noise guitar and layered with all manner of chanting and other textures which take the track away from any run of the mill improv into something more subtle and nuanced. Here, as with elsewhere on this album you are drawn away from the idea that most of it was recorded in one take.
What I particularly like about the next track, ‘Industria’, is how the ritualistic and mechanistic are melded together as if joined by some sort if metaphysical blow torch. The modern and the religious have always struggled in each other’s company as the beliefs of agricultural societies failed to become fully translated into new milieux; this even more so as we drop exhausted into post-industrial/ pre-apocalyptic times. Here the the circle isn’t quite squared, but the mix of dark industrial sounds with more spiritual aspects provide a small window into what may be.
After that ‘Rhizome’ feels positively up beat with it’s embedded jazz influences and deceptively complex structures which are both exhilarating and uplifting. There is something quite progressive about this track, although if that’s the case it’s shed a great deal of the baggage that comes with that term; and actually it really rocks, breaking the tensions of what has come before and providing the listener with some relief before the band hit us with the track with which I know the Bonnacons the most through their live performances, ‘Plantæ’.
Having heard it so many times live I was wondering how I’d react to it here. It’s certainly one that gets right inside your brain and transports you somewhere else and I found myself trying to channel that feeling through imagining gigs of yore as a way of accessing this. Whether I was successful I’m not sure, but instead I think that I am coming to appreciate the track on a slightly different level, and you certainly can’t deny that it remains compelling in its recorded form, suitably ending the album in a flurry of ritualistic ephemera… and then it is over…
I’m not entirely sure I know what I was expecting from this Bonnacons of Doom album. I know that I wanted to like it, and I was sure that I would. What I wasn’t clear about is that, in the same way as I found their live performances difficult to describe, that I would be able to find words to narrate this release sufficiently well. What I will say is that this is not an album to casually put on and listen to while doing something else. There is a depth and disposition to this album that lifts it out of the mundane… as such its not a casual listen. What it is is a percolation of the Bonnacons live act which you will just have to go and see as I would struggle to describe it to you.
‘Bonnacons of Doom’ is released on Rocket Recordings on 18th May 2018, and is available to order here.
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