Ukrainian trio Stoned Jesus grow out of their Sleepy beginnings on their expansive sophomore outing, Seven Thunders Roar. Released through Moon Records, the long-player is the band’s second behind 2010’s First Communion and sees a marked expansion of their scope. They’re still led by the riff, they’re still heavily toned and head-noddingly grooved, and I’d still go so far as to call this stuff weedian, but there’s more in common on Stoned Jesus’ second band with modern European heavy psych than American-style stoner idolatry, and that shift has led to a remarkable growth in the sound of the band. Fronted by guitarist/vocalist Igor Sidorenko, also responsible for the majority of the songwriting, Stoned Jesus don’t shy away from including acoustic guitars in the first several minutes of the epic “I’m the Mountain” or weaving some effective chorus interplay in with bassist/backing vocalist Sergey “Sid” Slusar on the earlier “Electric Mistress.” Slusar’s bass features heavily, as one might expect in the sphere of the new post-Colour Haze school of jam-based heavy psychedelia, but Sidorenko seems to want to give everyone their room within the songs, not just one side or the other. Drummer Vadim Matijko also nestles comfortably in the serene-but-thick grooves as well, resting periodically to let the guitars and bass each have their space. On the whole, Seven Thunders Roar is remarkably well balanced in this way, and perhaps some of the change can be attributed to the fact that Sidorenko lost the prior rhythm section of the band before realizing the follow-up to First Communion, which was the self-released Stormy Monday EP.
I wouldn’t conjecture one way or another on what brought about the change in approach as much as it is one, but that balance between the three players in Stoned Jesus now is a major factor in letting each song take its time to develop until the peak of “I’m the Mountain” can serve as the apex for the record as whole, which it does readily, and giving the five mostly-extended tracks a chance to build a personality of its own. Songs like “Bright Like the Morning” and “Electric Mistress” provide a sprawling if familiar beginning, the former reaching toward the nine-minute line (the latter crosses it at 9:23) and opening with soft guitars and sea sounds that reminds of the immediate coastal pastoralia that Gary Arce and UK proggers Sons of Alpha Centauri were able to bring to their Yawning Sons collaboration. Sidorenko is at home in this kind of ambience, and the birdsong blends in well amid his floating notes as Matijko’s drums and Slusar’s bass slowly work their way in and the song “begins” in earnest. The first line of the album is the title. It comes delivered by Sidorenko coolly and smoothly, the song’s Colour Hazed progression already headed toward its midpoint and the instrumental build well underway. There’s a tinge of prog in the riff as it develops in the song’s more driving second half, and that comes up again later, but the melody remains central along with the groove in the riff, and it seems already like Stoned Jesus may have become too serious for their moniker. Although, maybe not. I still really like the name Stoned Jesus.
Pace and activity level are both given a boost with “Electric Mistress,” which is a classic stoner rock shuffle pushed ahead by its riff and by Matijko’s capable timekeeping and made memorable by its second half, which slows to a crawl (or a crash) and positions Sidorenko more forward in the mix as he drops lines about the song’s title figure and her undoubtedly evil ways. Someday someone is going to write a fuzzy tune about a pretty lady who’s not at all malevolent. Until then, “Electric Mistress” has a rolling lumber in its back half that kicks effectively back in after a quiet, tom-led break and some whispers, and the last minute revives the shuffle tempo of the earlier stretch, rounding out the whole nicely and showing a mindfulness in Sidorenko’s songwriting. Some winding starts and stops serve as intro for the shorter centerpiece “Indian” – the lyrics of which, written from the voice of a Native American, you probably couldn’t get away with putting in a song if you were a white person in the US, but which instrumentally has a solid late ‘60s psychedelic boogie and is commendable for avoiding the caricaturized aspects of Native American music one might hear, say, in Anthrax or Iron Maiden. At three minutes in, Slusar takes the lead on bass for the last two minutes of the song and Sidorenko throws in some choice leads amid Dozer-esque vocals. Much better than war whoops or “heya, heya” vocalizations.
And when the 16-minute “I’m the Mountain” arrives at last, it does so with as little fanfare as possible, announced softly by a quiet acoustic introduction that brings the mind back to The Awesome Machine’s “Scars,” or further back, to a slowed-down version of Alice in Chains’ “Don’t Follow.” The first several minutes of “I’m the Mountain” are based around that and time well spent, so that when the electric guitars come in, backed by an excellent bassline from Slusar, the serene atmosphere is set. This too is classic Colour Haze instrumentally, but with 11 minutes still to go in the song when the riff really establishes itself, there’s plenty of time for Stoned Jesus to add a sense of themselves to the approach. The reason the song ultimately works as the peak of the album is that they do that, and also because they don’t lose sight of the linearity of the overall piece while also weaving in smaller ebbs and flows. When it hits its crescendo, just past the 10-minute mark with Sidorenko holding out a gruff delivery of the title line, that moment is followed by a surprisingly progressive (in the Tool tradition) guitar line that leads to a kind of reverse summary of the preceding movements. The earlier heavy groove is revisited, and finally the song caps with a vocal-topped reprisal of the intro. Again, the symmetry works to the favor of the overarching impression.
On the EP of the same name, “Stormy Monday” appeared twice, in four-minute and a 10-minute versions. Here on Seven Thunders Roar, Stoned Jesus seems to have settled on a version closer to the latter. The song is too substantial to be an afterthought at 8:43, but I might put it more on the level of epilogue than bonus track. Its C.O.C. “13 Angels”/”Albatross” riff is suited to the thick, warm tones in Sidorenko and Slusar’s instruments, and Matijko carries across the changes ably. It’s not nearly as adventurous as “I’m the Mountain” before it, but I’m not sure it would’ve worked anywhere else on the record either, and while without it the album is 39 minutes and that’s a perfectly acceptable length for an LP, the performances on the song and the nod to Black Sabbath’s “Snowblind” in the middle third, justify its inclusion, and the slowdown at the end (I’ve long been a sucker for a slowdown at the end) is a fittingly stonerized way for Seven Thunders Roar to go out. At its finish, Stoned Jesus’ second isn’t exactly a revolution in sound, but it is a leap for the band from First Communion and a worthy contribution to European heavy psych that will no doubt find acceptance among the already converted heads worshiping that specific brand of tonal warmth. There may be stronger records in the style, but by realigning themselves to it, they’ve embarked on a course that might just allow them to come into their own sonically, and that’s what really matters.Stoned Jesus, Stoned Jesus band, Stoned Jesus Seven Thunders Roar, Stoned Jesus Ukraine, Ukraine