Johnny the Boy – You


Johnny the Boy started as a jam between members of Crippled Black Phoenix during the downtime of a rehearsal. Justin Greaves (ex-Iron Monkey/Electric Wizard) picked up a guitar and started playing primitive doom riffs. Singer, Belinda Kordic, grabbed the mic to see if she could produce a black metal rasp to match. They posted the clip online, but people had no idea if it had a purpose beyond idle enjoyment. Now we know that it did. Johnny the Boy signed to Season of Mist last year, and the current and former members of Crippled Black Phoenix have a platform to explore their ugliest doom and black metal fantasies.

Taking their name from a cowardly Mad Max villain, Johnny the Boy sound and feel like a vengeful survivor of an apocalypse. Opener, ‘Die Already’, evolves from screeching feedback into a storyboard of slow-burning guitars and shrieking vocal abrasions. The bass notes gargle underneath like fumes from an exhaust pipe. Greaves leaves no imprint on the bridge of his guitar strings, instead strumming his distorted axe in the morbid ritual of doom metal. As a drummer by trade, his approach to the guitar thrives on a compensation of effort for techniques beyond him and most mortals. It’s too ethereal for sludge and too heavy for blackgaze. What is this music?

The song titles are often a good indication of their textures. ‘Grime’ opens with animated drum and guitar interplay from the hard rock school of rebellion, yet it slips into a menacing black metal dirge in corporeal form. The band are proud of their caveman riffs and necro vocals. ‘He Moves’ remains faithful to the doleful drum patterns and grinding guitar chords. Here, Kordic expands her voice beyond the black widow predator and into chilling folk harmonies. Your head relaxes into a permanent droop as the scraping fifth chords interact with a second channel of high-register phrasings. Greaves’ background in Electric Wizard serves him well on the blackened doom of ‘Endlessly Senseless’, where Kordic distorts her pipes like the wicked witch of a CS Lewis novel.

Experimental doom metal shrouded in minimalism and mysticism is always an intriguing proposition. This explains why the abrupt turn at tracks six and seven feels so off kilter. ‘Druh’ celebrates the heroism of Polish resistance fighter, Witold Pilecki, who handed himself into German authorities to expose the atrocities of Auschwitz to the outside world. Greaves draws from the first-wave black metal of Hellhammer and the d-beats of Discharge to ram home his eulogy. He follows it with another black ‘n’ roll agitation on ‘Wired’, where the hostility of Watain meets the greasy speed metal of Motörhead. Punk is not the word.

Though the possessor of such an emotional voice, Kordic chooses not to explore the tragic beauty of her melodic sensibilities on this record. Songs that could receive elevation to higher pastures stay mired in black metal malevolence. That’s understandable – Johnny the Boy is a passion project for musicians who want to reconnect with their extreme metal origins. It means that the hysterical wailing at the end of ‘Crossings’ is only a hint of what lies beyond the light of hope. ‘Without You’ outlines this false optimism by blinding your eyeballs with intense rays of evening sun. Listen how Kordic screeches like a cross between Emma Ruth Rundle and Martha Wainwright as if auditioning for a collaboration on a future Nick Cave song. You can hear a shade of Crippled Black Phoenix in the hybrid doom-folk meditations once you give up trying to understand them.

There’s enough quality here within the narrow confines of blackened doom metal to warrant a follow-up album. You is more experimental than your imagination will admit, but that might be due to the uncivilised guitar formations and monstrous bass frequencies.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 09/06/2023

Record Label: Season of Mist

Standout tracks: He Moves, Crossings, Druh

Suggested Further Listening: Cultic – Of Fire and Sorcery (2022), Might – Abyss (2022), Wallowing – Earth Reaper (2023)