Dutch multi-instrumentalist, Jason Köhnen, is more famous for his breakcore and jungle beats, but his musical roots are in the metal scene. With twenty-six EPs and seven albums under the Bong-Ra name since 1998, he attracted the attention of the metal underground with 2018’s Antediluvian, and now returns with album number eight. Meditations continues with the same experimental doom metal as its predecessor and explores the free jazz of previous records, yet it never feels sterile or predictable. Indeed, you might even call this cerebral background music that you can play on your headphones while doing other chores.
Like Five the Hierophant, Köhnen realises that the most effective way to merge metal and jazz is through the tempo of doom metal. How else can you experiment with an improvisational approach unless you have John Zorn as your lead composer for a jazz-grind maze of shorter proportions? Opener, ‘Courage’, sees Köhnen push the ugly bass fuzz to the forefront of the mix with hi-fi drum snares and a vicious bite of guitar distortion drenched in high treble settings. Ten minutes of this might sound dull, but Bong-Ra’s musical colours hallucinate with the light brown of the Sinai desert. The filthy bass lends it a corruption designed to animate your base instincts. Imagine a drunken company of nineteenth-century Christian soldiers invading an Ottoman Palace and making away with the Sultan’s jewels. Add in Colin Webster’s swirling saxophones and you have a recipe for perversion. ‘Wisdom’ ties its mast to the same camel, yet the suave China splashes and sophisticated ghost notes of session drummer, Eugene Bodenstaff, give the conventional rock beats an illusory jazz feel. Webster’s saxophone appears after four minutes, and it’s a smooth operation that would work well as the musical accompaniment to a slow-motion video of Yemeni coffee beans processing through a burr grinder. Are you a gentleman traveller or a gentleman psychopath?
Phrygian mode arrangements form the core sound of Meditations, yet the listening experience never feels predictable or monotonous. ‘Justice’ is an intriguing piece of oud plucking that will make you wince under the heat and light of the sun on the horizon. You could sit through seven minutes of this with your hipflask near-to-full, but Köhnen remembers to provide you with the survival tools of the twenty-first century with an enlivening bass groove. The guitars slither under delay effects like a fox sneaking into a chicken coop. Your sense of balance fails you on closing track, ‘Temperance’. This might be the only song that stifles you. Other mind pursuits cloud your vision, yet the music remains stuck in your consciousness like the twenty-four-hour news cycle on repeat when you nod off in front of your television.
Thirty-seven minutes of this haze are pleasant on the ears but less generous to your sensory nervous system. That’s the point of Bong-Ra. Close your eyes and let your mind wander. Open your hip flask and let the faint breeze of the desert caress your collar bone. The horizon is not far away.
Release Date: 05/08/2022
Record Label: Tartarus Records
Standout tracks: Courage, Justice
Suggested Further Listening: Karl Sanders – Saurian Apocalypse (2022), Slow Burning Rage – Slow Burning Rage (2021), Messa – Close (2022)