Sometimes you sift through your vinyl records and come across The Pixies and Butthole Surfers among the extreme metal and dark post-punk bands in there. You think, “Oh, I haven’t heard these classics in a while.” Costa Rican quartet, Hongo Fu, will have the same effect once you give their latest album a spin. There’s no doubt Fuu belongs in there with your Slayer and Sisters of Mercy records, and, like many good LPs, it defies categorisation.
You never know what to expect with Hongo Fuu, but the opening track, ‘Control’, starts like a discordant version of the guitar lines in Foo Fighters’ ‘Everlong’ before launching into two minutes of acid rock and grabbing your throat with an intense flurry of death metal vocals. Barcelona avant-garde metal sensations, Obsidian Kingdom, are the nearest reference point. A couple of tracks from the new Melvins album also tread the same eclectic territory, but it might be easier to call it sludgy mathrock in standard 4/4 timing (if that’s even possible!). You’re still stroking your chin when the art rock of ‘Coketa Molly’ launches into a Pixies Surfa Rosa vibe and ‘Ratwater’ puts you through a Dead Kennedys-meets-The Shadows workout. Now you’re scratching behind your ear lobe and frowning. What the hell is this?
A group photo of the band shows four hairy stoners who resemble roadies from the 1970s. You don’t anticipate them to evoke Gang of Four and PJ Harvey in the same song (‘Fregoli’) or to mix surf rock with the wildest of Led Zeppelin indulgences, like on ‘El Culto Al Hongo Azul’. The latter is Hank Marvin, Mr Bungle’s California and Jimmy Page spliced together in an effortless progressive framework. That’s no lie. Give it a listen if you don’t believe these words. Christ, they even mix Hawkwind with an ear-piercing detour of black metal on ‘O Light of Dawn’.
Perhaps the only criticism is the band’s unwillingness to give us more than a few hints of extreme metal in their kaleidoscopic approach. Don’t tease us with a couple of malevolent moments and leave them unrealised! The penultimate track on the album is a good example where the band employ Gregorian chants and experimental drone music. This is dark and chilling and shows the group have a sinister side to their eccentric party style, but they seldom explore this mood. Then again, the male-female vocal harmonies on ‘Trite’ are delicious. With pop sensibilities like these, they draw you back in with the promise of more light. It’s hard to resist, especially when there’s a Flamenco beat and Spanish guitar behind the punk-rock attitude.
Fuu aims to confuse and dazzle at the same time and never grants you a moment of calm reflection. Yet you’ll press repeat to see if you can make sense of it next time around. Is it art rock, alt-metal, surf or progressive?
It might never become clear, but that’s not a bad thing, is it?
Release Date: 02/03/2021
Record Label: Sliptrick Records
Standout tracks: Control, El Culto Al Hongo Azul, O Light of Dawn
Suggested Further Listening: Obsidian Kingdom – Meat Machine (2020), The Pixies – Bossanova (1990), Mr Bungle – California (1999)