Stoned Jesus’ frontman Igor Sidorenko once mentioned that he likes how his band produces potentially successful albums every three years, people in musical circles used to joke, that in this way, the trio miss two weak records. The Ukrainian rockers began to intrigue their fans with the upcoming release of their 4th LP a few months before the expected date. It's been more than three years now since the harsh and bold album "The Harvest" came out (February 2015), and it's worth saying that the new record in Ukraine has long been awaited since the band disappeared into a tight tour schedule, they’ve been missed a lot. Moreover a series of successes, that surrounded the musicians in recent times, like dozens of new visited European and South America countries, performance at one of the largest festivals "Hellfest-2016" in France and of course the contract with the famous label Napalm Records gave some additional points to such promising "Pilgrims" in advance. Probably the same "pilgrims" (travelers, voyagers) are the members of Stoned Jesus, in whose new program only for current autumn there are about 50 concerts. So, after all that, these guys just couldn’t put out a weak record, could they?
On September 7, the band presented its new LP at the Kyiv-based club Bingo, playing in the city for the first time in 2018. A few hours earlier, the album came out on several popular streaming platforms, but the most attentive fans could listen to "Pilgrims" streams on some thematic forums the previous evening. Having tried "Pilgrims" twice, Noizr Zine went to a concert, full of everything you could expect: hundreds of excited listeners, albeit slightly weak in sound, but still catching warm up act, Somali Yacht Club, a spectacular performance by Stoned Jesus and the branded merch. What also usually happens there? Oh, yeah, the roaring fan zone, water bottles flying into it from the stage and the two encores with the screams "One more song". Most of all I wanted to attend the concert not so much because of the release, but because of the ambiguous impressions caused by its previous listening.
In the band’s discography, which consists of four full-length albums, there are no stylistically identical records. Sidorenko’s had the talent and ability to experiment with sounds long before moving to Kyiv, in the same way he led his main project. Stoned Jesus went through the stages of the gloomy doom metal with "First Communion" (2010) and the impurities of psychedelics on "Seven Thunders Roar", the band came to aggression and a bold progressive rock with "The Harvest" (2015). With no exception in this evolution, they recorded the soft and poetically lyrical "Pilgrims" (2018), surprisingly, even the frontman himself has not yet decided what to call their new style, suggesting something like "progressive stoner".
In fact we can assume that Stoned Jesus took a step toward their favorite projects like The Mars Volta or Deftones, which turned into something in between "Seven Thunders Roar" and "The Harvest" but more melodic and with clear noise elements. The album is imbued with rather heavy, sometimes even excessively monotonous, rustic stoner parts, whilst some tracks have assertive progressive riffs. At the same time the band retained its usual rhythmic jumps, but considerably simplified them, making them softer, some of them elegant in their simplicity.
The band’s new drummer, the musician from Kharkiv Dmitry Zinchenko (5R6, Small Depo) does a great job, as always Sergey Slusar’s bass, sounds just perfect. An experiment with an almost dance track "Apathy", which sounds close to some synth motifs of popular European electronic projects, creates great impressions. It would seem that there is nothing to confuse the average admirer of Stoned Jesus. Experiments with sounds are far from new, moreover they were always welcomed by fans, but at this stage it is worth talking about the experiments with vocal parts that do not seem so successful, and in the context of some tracks not appropriate at all.
The vocals were the first thing that confused me, and made it clear that there would not be a lot of familiar Stoned Jesus on "Pilgrims". The attempts to sound more melodic first of all affected the vocal parts, with which the band lost not only its solid and thematic voice, but also lacked confidence in general. Listening to the couplets and the choruses of the tracks like "Excited", the single "Thessalia" or "Hands Resist Him" near the stage, I caught myself thinking that Igor Sidorenko set himself a rather difficult task vocally, he struggles to pull off the songs confidently, but for some reasons the band chose to ignore this hurdle.
For the same reason, despite Bingo's being the original scene where everything began for Stoned Jesus, it should have given the band a boost in confidence, and yet, the first track "Excited" became a wall of noise, the potential hit "Thessalia" lost all its audacity, "Hands Resist Him" and "Water Me" seemed infinitely long and mundane. There were no chances to achieve such an effect with the 11-minute, also monotonous but really catchy "Black Woods" hit. Not this time.
As Sidorenko noted, in recent years his band’s audience was parted for old school lovers, the fans of "First Communion" and "Seven Thunders Roar" sound, and hipsters — they are "ready to visit concerts and buy merch". This division was clearly seen near the stage: the first part listened intently to the new sound with a kind of evaluation of the "Pilgrims" and could not decide what emotions they were experiencing, another part just went mad in the fan zone, reacting to all the songs in the same way. Those who stayed to listen to the encores, could notice that none of the new songs caused such a reaction and response as "I'm the Mountain", mentioned above "Black Woods" and "Here Come The Robots". Yeah, maybe some new tracks just need time.
Along with this all the positive reviews that came across the network these days, like "this is your best album", sincerely surprised me, it seems like in Ukraine people just can’t judge those musicians, who climbed above the rest. We accept any product from the bands, who managed to make a name for themselves abroad and subscribe to any famous foreign label. And the situation with Stoned Jesus is not the only example here.
Summarizing, I would like to say that the album "Pilgrims" is somewhat disappointing, and it seemed more like the first weak one than the next successful. Of course, there is no drama in this, after all, in every discography you can find not strong albums, which were released during some changes, new successes or failures. Yeah, no one can be perfect everyday like The Beatles or Led Zeppellin (although some would contest that). Let’s just say if "Pilgrims" was my first Stoned Jesus record... I'm not sure that this LP would would stimulate my interest to dig deeper and find out what one of the most talented (for my taste) groups of the modern Ukrainian scene is capable of.
Stoned Jesus' album "Pilgrims" is scored 5,5/10
Text by Yurii Somov, edited by Dan Thaumitan
Photos by Mila Immortality
Noizr Zine thanks Vlad Lyashenko for the accreditation