Written by: AP on 27/07/2016 22:54:38

Dopethrone leaves very little to the imagination. Even if the Montreal, QC -born trio’s nom de guerre was not derived from the title of Electric Wizard’s third album, it would not require much intellectual power to deduce what their music is all about: recursive smoker’s riffs played at a leisurely pace and boggy lyricism to do with drugs and the occult. The Canucks have stuck to a familiar stoner metal formula since the band’s inception in 2008, keeping tweaks to a minimum so as to earn and retain a loyal following of riff thirsty disciples, and on this fourth outing “Hochelaga” (christened according to a St. Lawrence Iroquoian 16th century fortified village in the heart of present-day Montreal), those adjustments are constrained to an improved production quality — but thankfully without compromising the coarse, waxy sound for which Dopethrone is renowned — and generally a slower groove.

None of the seven tracks push any boundaries or etch themselves into eternity; “Hochelaga” is merely a sustained journey into the center of the riff, loaded with scourging, pentatonic chords and dripping with venomous blues. And with song titles like “Sludgekicker”, “Vagabong” and “Riff Dealer”, lyricism à la ”Smoke! Drink! Die!”, not to mention the disquieting pseudoscientific narration taking place in the intermezzos, the philosophy underlying Dopethrone’s method is made pretty obvious, too. Where “Hochelaga” falters with variety thus, it bids to compensate with the same sort of eerie supernatural atmosphere that hung over the first season of HBO’s series True Detective as well and made it such a smash hit. You experience it especially during the pair “Chameleon Witch” and “Dry Hitter”, which wade through the sludgy guitar work and hoarse, whispery growling of frontman Vincent Houde at the same speed as life in America’s deep south, and with a horrible, ritualistic edge. The latter in particular sounds absolutely menacing in the break, when Houde lets go of his strings for lingering feedback and snarls ”I drink fire - smoke dope ritual. I get higher - slow toke ritual. Dank bud burner - thick smoke ritual. Dry hit bastard - no hope ritual.” over rumbling bass and drums by his cohorts Vyg and Big Borman.

Those two tracks stand in contrast with the more traditional stoner-doom palette from which the likes of “Vagabong” and “Scum Fuck Blues” are constructed. The former wears its Sleep influences so glaringly you might want to double check that “Dragonaut” was not shuffled by accident — so categorical is the adoption of that track’s muted riff flowering into a heavily distorted version of itself as the rhythm picks up and Houde’s demonic voice bleeds through. Amidst the haze he rather ironically ”[wishes he] was fucking stoned”, and one must give it to him: that is probably a prerequisite to ‘getting’ what Dopethrone and “Hochelaga” truly are about. With the exception of the odd instant reward, like the heavy-as-shit homage to the old ‘Sabbath paid by “Scum Fuck Blues”’ torrid riffing, this is the sort of album that works better after ingesting a mind-altering substance, be it alcohol, cannabis, or something else; one that needs to be felt blasting from a venue grade PA to have the most genuine experience with it.

If there is such a thing as too stoning, then “Hochelaga” has a strong claim to that prize. As trippy and addictive as the jams deployed by Dopethrone on it are, often the dynamics (and riffs) are kept too conservative to really separate one from the next. As is, the record feels like an involuntary sedative: a warm and fuzzy experience while it lasts, but one from which you struggle to recall the highs and lows as you emerge on the other side. As such, “Hochelaga” seems far more suitable for the live setting, where that experience can liaison with a visual aesthetic to provide those cues and capitalise on its immersive potential.


Download: Chameleon Witch, Scum Fuck Blues, Dry Hitter
For the fans of: Bongzilla, Eyehategod, Sleep
Listen: Bandcamp

Release date 13.04.2015
Totem Cat Records

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