Bongzilla, Wizard Rifle, Leafblower, and Gnomonaut show Atlanta the meaning of stoner sludge
Written by Scott Belzer | April 15th, 2023
There’s a point in every Bongzilla song where a listener can’t help but sit back, smile, and say to themselves, “Damn, man.” The riffs are just that heavy and just that groovy.
For their latest full-length album, Weedsconsin (and first since 2005’s Amerijuanican) the Madison, Wisconsin weed metal trio bring the expected grooviness and heaviness, but highlight the x-factor that’s made them stand out since 1995: a thoughtful, well-orchestrated spaciness. From the album’s opener, “Sundae Driver,” Bongzilla makes it known that listeners can still expect the ultra-heavy, ultra-fuzzy, ultra-vibey builds they’ve come to know and love. But a more prevalent psychedelic, drum-circle-esque jam element soon emerges from the smoke that brings it all together. This continues throughout Weedsconsin, and it’s a blazin’ good time (yes, the puns are necessary—this is stoner metal after all).
Watching Bongzilla’s live show is a near transcendental experience, as it showcases just how well these three musicians—bassist/vocalist Michael “Muleboy” Makela, guitarist Jeff “Spanky” Schultz, and drummer Michael “Magma” Henry—really sync. There’s a cohesiveness that’s reminiscent of jazz, where each band member not only plays off the other, but takes a turn at showcasing their respective bandmates. A swingin’ bass solo from Muleboy will be accompanied by fills galore from Magma, which will help build to a glorious guitar solo from Spanky. Similarly, Spanky and Muleboy will thunder along together while Magma executes one of the most kickass drum solos you’ve ever heard. It ebbs and flows, only to ebb and flow again, billowing around the listener in a nice, sludgy fog.
Bongzilla is bringing that fog to Boggs Social & Supply on April 25 with support from Portland’s Wizard Rifle as well as Atlanta locals Leafblower and Gnomonaut, marking the band’s first return to the city in almost seven (!) years.
Wizard Rifle brings a welcome energy to the stoner metal realm without sacrificing the spaced-out ethos. Their 2019 self-titled album offers the same level of sludge and fuzz as your typical weed-themed metal band, but riffs crash down so much harder, vocals seem so much more aggressive in their pained yells (or melodic soars!) and rhythms seem so much more chaotic (see: “Rocket to Hell”). If you need a soundtrack to blow the wheels off your vintage Harley Davidson or blacked-out ’55 Chevy Bel Air, look no further than Wizard Rifle.
That shouldn’t suggest there’s nothing to groove to. “Caveman Waltz” and “Beneath the Spider” offer that slow, psychedelic, and rump-shaking swing to balance out the chaos, showing that the band’s self-described influences of Lightning Bolt, Karp, Sonic Youth, Black Sabbath, and High on Fire all ring true. Personally, I’d also throw Kyuss and Fu Manchu into the mix, as Wizard Rifle’s sound is straight out of a hampering, soul-crushing desert haze.
Atlanta quintet Leafblower offer their own brand of heavy-ass riffage and shredding solos. Leaning more into the doom metal side of stoner metal (with a heavy emphasis on the word metal, folks) Leafblower’s punishing grooves and building melodies will have you headbanging and horn raising without a second thought. The band recently crushed Bogg’s Atlanta Doom Fest 2, announcing themselves as a force to be reckoned with. If their frontman’s consistent, spasmatic energy can’t get you moving, I’d question what, exactly, you want out of a quality live show.
If it’s spaced-out vibes you crave, Atlanta quartet Gnomonaut has it in spades. The progressive space rock band provides nothing but instrumental delights that take you on a journey to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, man. Having shared the stage with such names as Yawning Man, Hawkwind, and Crawl, listeners and show attendees should know the journey is well worth the price of admission.