Supernatural is one of my favorite shows on TV, it has been for the last six years or so. One of the endearing features of the show is the heavy use of classic rock and classic metal. While they use the old standbys exclusively, it’s never stopped me from imagining what other bands could fill the airwaves for the show. One genre stands out in particular, having a very similar feel as the show: Stoner Doom. Stoner Doom’s pedigree is actually pretty impressive, building off the successes of bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zepplin, and Cathedral. From my research, I’ve found that the name “Stoner Doom” can be a bit of a misnomer, the genre may have been born to glorify drugs and hallucinations, and to be fair a lot of the genre still exists in that bubble, but as the genre expanded the subject matter changed. The feeling, though, hasn’t changed. The sound has only gotten sharper, heavier, and slower. Stoner Doom is the music of the rebel, it’s the music of the road warrior, the nomad, the free thinker, the care free man (If you watch Supernatural, you know who I’m referring to). Just like other genres though, Stoner Doom has a lot of stuff that’s formulaic and boring. I’ve been looking for a worthwhile album for a few weeks now that I can recommend. Woodhawk, filling the airwaves from Calgary, released an album (today, in a stroke of luck) called Beyond the Sun that is everything I have come to enjoy about Stoner Doom. It’s slow and plodding (I mean sloooooooow) but it has an excellent sound, musiciancraft and vocals, and of course, it has a good storyline.
We have been told that every great story starts with one of two things: someone goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. What’s the catalyst for Beyond the Sun’s storyline? What’s the purpose of the story? Beyond the Sun is the story of journey, a bildungsroman possibly, of an individual. It’s the journey across the wasteland, and a journey of self-discovery. The unnamed protagonist starts his journey as an inexperienced loaner. Why he goes on the journey isn’t really said but it seems like he is escaping something, the monotony of everyday life.
The story drops us right in the middle of the story, much like the Iliad dropped the readers right in the middle of the Trojan War. We can only speculate, then, on the reasons for the journey itself. Is he searching for something? Is he running from something? What exactly is he searching for? What is he going toward? Does he know what he is going to? Those last questions are really important; they can bring the entire story into a different scope given their answer.
What if he knows where he’s going? If he knows the destination, each song, each person he meets, is premeditated. He knows what he’s going for and he knows what to expect. In a sense, he’s arming himself, steeling himself, for whatever lies ahead. Each song as a very distinct purpose, there is a lesson he is trying to learn. Beyond the Sun takes on the story elements of a search rather than a journey. If he knows where he is going then he has a plan. Right? He may or he may not, being as inexperienced as we know the character is I can only assume he doesn’t really have a plan, but he knows he needs something
What if he doesn’t know where he is going? If he doesn’t have or doesn’t know his destination then each song, each meeting with people in the wasteland, becomes a serendipitous chance meeting. Each person offers wisdom that makes him grow in a way that is more organic, more well-rounded. He becomes less a spearheaded youth and more a scholar, seeking anything and everything. This is the story of a journey; this is the story perspective that brings about the glories of the journey. There’s an intrepid spirit in this interpretation, an eager sense of acquisition. Every stoner doom album that I listened to has felt as though it’s been, at least partially, in a post-apocalyptic, or diasporic world. The search for and acquisition of knowledge, wisdom from the old world is like a form of currency. With each song, each new lessoned learned, the protagonist becomes richer and richer. At “Foresee the Future,” he becomes something more than just an unnamed traveler in the wasteland. He becomes powerful. He becomes a purveyor of wisdom himself. By the end of Beyond the Sun, the protagonist has not only found his destination, his place in the wasteland, but he has become one of the stops along the way through the wasteland. He has his own knowledge to spread now. He has discovered his purpose.
I could go on about the storyline and narrative prowess of the album for several pages, but for the sake of time (I plan on returning to this album and using my powers of narratology to discover everything I can about the album) I’ll leave the journey up to you, the new listeners. I loved the story of Beyond the Sun. I felt as though I was on the journey with the protagonist, I felt as though I was traveling thorugh wasteland with him. I felt my journey was much longer than his however, I, an observer, still have much to learn and my place to find in this new world.
Beyond the Sun was too short. In nearly forty minutes, Woodhawk has told a damn good yarn. It’s something that someone needs to interpret into a script or a novel. Beyond the Sun could have been twice as long as I don’t think I would have lost interest. The ultra-slow riffs never got old, I was entertained the entire time. Beyond the Sun was exciting and fun. My hope is that the album might be the start of a story, a self-contained beginning that other albums in the future can come back to flesh everything out and continue the journey. The riffs were perfectly constructed to build a huge atmosphere, it felt otherworldly at times, and that’s exactly what stoner doom is supposed to do right? The music was excellent but I think the vocals were what really pushed it over the edge. They were clean and melodic; they hold a hypnotic force (pun intended as they have a beautiful Star Wars themed song that works as a tribute and an actual part of the narrative) over the listener that really brings the listener into the story they were telling. They reminded me a lot of The Sword’s latest albums High and Low Country. The vocals slowed the music down and makes it feel real. I’ve heard music similar to Woodhawk with much harsher vocals that didn’t have the same sojournistic feel, the search for knowledge was there but not the intimacy with the characters, not the way that Beyond the Sun gives us. We are able to feel and understand each new player, new character we come across. We can feel as though this is a journey we could take if we wanted to. The question the album asks at the end is, what’s keeping you from a journey like this? It’s time to cross the wasteland, my friends. It’s time to begin our own search.
Highlights: Lawless, A New Hope, The High Priest
If you enjoyed this try: The Sword, Dopelord, Black Tomb
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