High Concept 

Amps and eardrums go up in smoke with Madison’s Bongzilla

I love ‘70s concept albums, and the concept of the concept album even more so. Ambitious by definition, probably bloated and pompous to boot, nothing says “We never said we just wanted to just play rock ’n’ roll!” like four songs sprawled out over four album sides, possibly with the added imputation that the band enjoys playing them from the forecastle of a giant space-galleon sailing from one consciousness to the next. Throw in some egomaniacal liner notes (explaining, for example, how the whole idea came to one band member as he paused over a lengthy footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi before that evening’s concert in Tokyo) and you can pretty much understand why punk rock landed on the scene like an anvil on a box of eclairs.

Yet the creeping tendrils of the concept album still reach into the present day. More than that, there are even concept bands. A few years ago, a punk band called Rice released an album of songs all about the world’s largest staple crop, and somewhere or other I’ve got a demo tape from a British Columbia band called Soy, boasting largely soy-based subject matter. Get ready for this, Yes fans: The tape is called Tales from Tofugraphic Oceans, no shit!

Some might find a band that only writes songs about smoking pot pretty pathetic. Not the very model of ambition, anyway, which kind of runs counter to the whole idea of a concept album. Still, you’ve got to hand it to Bongzilla, these world heavyweight cronzers from Madison, Wisc., for following their muse to the logical extreme on long-players with names like Stash and Methods for Attaining Extreme Altitudes and the coyly-named Budgun/THC seven-inch. And anyway, just because a band is too hypnotically stoned to notice that they’ve been playing the exact same riffle for, say, the last 10 minutes, does that really mean they’re somehow limiting themselves? Try telling Bongzilla that, only say it with a 20-count box of Ho-Hos.

The songs on Bongzilla’s 1999 Relapse Records release Stash (their most recent release; insert your own amotivational syndrome joke here) are not referred to as songs, but rather as “seeds.” They were not recorded, mixed or produced, but rather “budded,” “cured” and “trimmed.” Even the accompanying press release is written entirely in potspeak (“Cultivating an extremely thick and heavy harvest...billowy sonic cloud...crystallized bliss...resin-coated wallop...” and so on), and where a less obsessive bunch of stoners might have rounded out the CD booklet with some band photos or whatever, Bongzilla treats you to eight full-color (mostly green) shots of High Times-style bud-porn, complete with a cultivation legend! The disc itself is printed with a scarily-magnified female (420X, of course) flower. The toke joke permeates everything about Bongzilla—no stone unturned or, rather, no turn unstoned. And judging from the promotional photo, they must go through Ozium by the cubic meter.

Bongzilla’s music, on the other hand, might not be everyone’s idea of optimal bong-sesh listening. It is Sabbath worship to the stoneth degree—loud, heavy and punishing to the maximum. No piping jam-band vocals or barefoot mandolin solos here, just the sound of shredded vocal chords and amps cranked to Obliterate. Stash is the kind of album a lot of people would only listen to while stoned because it would make them too paranoid to get up and turn it off.

In other words, it rocks. Phish fans, please flee in terror.

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