Bongzilla: Ripping the Stage After 16 Years with New Music
Words and photographs by Chris Rugowski / Chicken or The Egg Photography
With speaker stacks taller than the members of the band, Bongzilla ripped the stage after 16 years with new music that was recorded and released in 2021. Preparing for a potential European tour, they are playing a few dates around the Midwest to help promotion. This show was on Sunday, January 16, at The Lyric Room in Green Bay.
The last album Bongzilla released was in 2005, and when listening to the new stuff it’s as if the veil of time went on hold and just waited for the right moment to show. It’s the “Bongzilla” sound, as Mike “Muleboy” Makela was quick to point out. Many bands change sounds throughout the years; this band stayed true to their craft and wrote new songs that retain the look, feel, and aural texture that fans have come to expect.
Of the new album, singer Muleboy says, “We did it all in a week, mixed and everything. Two of them were written when Cooter was still in the band; the rest of it was written when the pandemic started. Our drummer and I weren’t working, so we’d just get together and jam and write. That was probably half of the songs.” He was keen to point out part of the magic happens when you get “high enough”; that’s when, as Muleboy puts it, “stuff just falls out and comes together.”
However, the real magic comes in channeling the songs rather than forcefully writing the songs. Muleboy says, “You’re just discovering things. We’re not breaking new ground by any means.”
When referring to breaking new ground, one may go back in time to 1995 when they formed and became one of the forefront bands bringing “Stoner Rock” to the scene. Since then the scene has had many additions and discoveries along the way. When asked about how he feels about being considered a progeny of the genre, Muleboy referenced Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as one his all time favorites. He recalled looking at it and thinking, “If I play this, I’m gonna go to hell.” Now years later they’re still rocking, and they certainly aren’t going to hell for it.
When I listened I heard the influences of the original heavy metal, psych, and beginnings of the stoner rock sound with that slower sludgy feel to their music; queue the intro to “War Pigs.” In fact many of their guitar solos had a “War Pigs” feel. This is a band I will definitely check out again when they come to the area.
IT IS DEAD
Changing directions from stoner rock to Sludge-But-Not,-Kind-of-Black-Metal-ish, we’re going to explore It Is Dead, a three-piece out of Milwaukee, WI.
These guys crushed everything in their path with ribcage-rattling tones and textures. Using a Reverend Baritone, guitarist Kevin Pappas began the set with a slow, heavy, baritone blanket of sound that set the mood. With incense burning on the stage, singer Shawn Page stood against the wall, brooding in the sludge and doom until it was his time to come to life. Drummer Jesus Zuniga sat patiently in a meditative state waiting for the cymbal crash to come. A cacophony of sound melted together to create a blend of Sludge but not, kind of Black Metal mixed with some chaos.
This band as a trio has only been together for three weeks. From the way they played you’d never know that. Originally just a solo project from Kevin, the other two members, both accomplished musicians for many years, did their homework, and among them all figured out the songs in just four jams. This is a band you will 100% want to follow if you’re into Sludge/Black Metal.
Being Milwaukee-based, they stick out as a unique band in the area. There are not too many black metal bands, so they will be planning shows from Chicago to Minneapolis, booming towns for booming music with supportive fans.
As for the uncertainty on genre, Pappas says, “We all got fed up with being boxed in. As in, we have to write stoner songs, or we have to write doom songs. This is our project where we’re just going to write heavy, and whatever comes out, we’re going to put out.”
Drummer Jesus walks up to the interview and includes, “We have our own unique sound, which is exciting. We’re not a traditional doom band.” When you watch their show you see the influences of the older Celtic Frost era. It was very apparent during the last song when the band went into a slow riff, laden with emotion, with mood lighting apropos.
Getting to play a show with Bongzilla was definitely a highlight, Kevin says. “It’s super cool to see old-school bands like that, especially from Wisconsin doing that! It’s good to see other ‘old dudes’ putting out music too. We’re super grateful to be here.”
The band will begin recording in March. They expect a digital release to happen this year. They are considering a vinyl release, but that will come at a later point, since right now many of the pressing plants are backed up.
Give them a follow online and check out a show near you!
This band opened the night off with a bang. All things consider, definitely on the faster side of the metal sound for the evening, the Beetlegork guitarist wielding a white firebird with a crystal clear distortion and a scream that fit like a glove. Normally a three-piece, they were a duo for this set, but they played like a quartet or quintet. I can just imagine what the full band sounds like. They kept the energy going, and I didn’t want it to end.
The stoner rock and black metal scene is very inclusive and accepting. They will take just about anything, and if you can find the groove, you’re good to go. You may also find yourself headbanging along. You don’t need to be a metal fan in particular to enjoy a show. Metal bands and their listeners are some of the nicest people around. Don’t let appearances fool you; they’re not scary people; they don’t want to tear the building down. They just want to make loud noises and scream a bit.
IT IS DEAD