Skeleton Gong’s second recording after the self produced 2011 demo ‘Eskimo Wizards and the Louisiana swamp priests’ this next offering sees the Glasgow psychedelic doom fiends take a step up a level to the next purple tinged cloud hovering above their collection of cowboy hatted heads.
Coming in a standard jewel case the cover art is a simple, minimalistic affair depicting a shot of the Earth and an astronaut against a sheer black background which deceptively hides the bands ‘far out’ sound but clever enough to give a nod to the spacey-ness of the affair. A set of wings on the aforementioned astronaut is the only indication one gets into the smokey, export fuelled brain of the Gong.
The sleeve booklet is a single folded sheet made from what seem like disappointingly cheap matte card paper giving minimal information aside from the most basic contact details. The back cover fairs better, mainly due to the fact that you can’t touch it but comes double sided with a reproduction of the rather excellent CD label art which can be seen through the clear housing that the disc sits on which is a feature of CD’s that is almost always welcome and gives the package that extra boost of professionalism.
Musically the band make no bones about what they like with opening track ‘Old man Gong’ barely even scratching the belly of what would be considered reasonably slow. It doesn’t take long after the doom specific open chords give way to some mega-spacey analogue synths and this feature as well as the heavy focus on instrumentals sets the Gong Apart from other doom bands in the genre as there love of all things analogue and 70’s is apparent.
The whole feel is melancholic but surprisingly melodic too with ups and downs in feeling reflecting perhaps an imaginary psyche of a person going from sad to sinister to at times optimistic. The meticulous and refreshing blending of guitar harmonies and reverb soaked cleantones along with some messy guitar solos (which are strangely but charmingly reminiscent of Hendrix if he were out his tits and doing a single take recording) in amongst the slabs of heavy chord meat and retro synths goes a long way to lift what is most certainly the scourge of many lesser doom bands and that is too much of the same thing for every song.
Technicalness is never an issue in doom and with the band not being constrained by this particular variable the purity of the music is allowed to shine through with many textures being layered through driving but not boring repetitions, a balance that is exceptionally hard to achieve and is lost of more than half the bands of this genre.
The structures are typically erratic but controlled to the point where you feel like it isn’t just a big jam that’s been recorded and a there is a reason for every relentless riff cycle that is like time and space folding over on itself hitting you with the same cryptic life message until finally it sinks in.
Doom and black metal are notoriously hard to judge on production values as their standards are almost polar opposite of what is ‘the norm’ and Skeleton Gong wears the lo-fi badge with some pride but took the wise decision to have a little polish to their product as well. The guitars are surprisingly crisp, not so much for the band but for the genre with the typical farty crackle associated with the stoner tone being absent. This allows for much more room in the frequency spectrum (as does the lack of vocals in most songs!) and one suspects it was a deliberate and clever decision to make room for the many sounds and textures that make up the bands sound to shine through.
With so much going on it’s easy for the production to turn into mush and of course sacrifices have to be made with the drums being pushed somewhat nearer the back of the mix but everything can be heard and it is heard with impact at just the right times which undoubtedly shows a well trained engineer and a keen ear from the band themselves. The overall master is quieter than one would hope for with a focus on mid rage and not a lot of high end sparkle or wideness but this gives it a strange feel reminiscent of a retro production and is easy on the ears having not been smashed to pieces by a limiter.
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