Stoned Jesus seems content to dabble.
Stoner metal is, generally, not to be taken seriously. Oh sure there are grand concepts behind most of the albums, taking in sweeping landscapes from Dune or colossal battles from Star Wars into their myths, but the DnD fantasies aren’t just fueled by nerdom. As the name implies and pleas, there needs to be a certain herb to imbibe the vibe properly. Stoned Jesus doesn’t even imply. From their break out Seven Thunders Roar, they’ve been a group of space cadets funneling their reckless energy into grand explorations of far distant worlds, all while sitting on the couch.
For all that pretense of grandeur, the Ukrainian outfit always backed up their journeys with solid rock muscle. Seven Thunders Roar was built around the 12-minute goliath “I’m the Mountain,” a masterclass in dynamic shifting and rock ’n’ roll riffing that landed somewhere between Kansas and Sleep. But Pilgrims finds them firmly in the sleepier territory, and with no real connection to the band they once emulated.
Much like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, Stoned Jesus’ penchant for classic rock roars into the ears, drowning out all other, more interesting, influences. Despite seven minute plus run times and plenty of carnal riffage, Pilgrims could be on any bargain bin next to the forgotten records of W.A.S.P. or Kiss. Stoned Jesus might take that as a compliment, but it’s a watering down of what made them interesting in the first place. “Thessalia” at four minutes and 20 seconds (har-har), plays with some mental angst from nu-metal dorks like Trapt and riffles through the boorish vamps of Zep also-rans. And that’s not diving into the truly slogging songs, where the seconds stretch by like hours, and the vague whisperings of ill deeds done in the background don’t paint a picture of intrigue but boredom. Even funneled through the excessive run times, most of Pilgrims feels utterly predictable. The drums will slam in here, the bass will drop out there, the vocals will rise now. It’s stoner rock paint-by-numbers.
In seven songs, Stoned Jesus only pulls out two bright spots. One is the choruses of opener “Excited,” an unfocused meditation on fame. The verses are some of the most yawn-worthy rock of 2018, but in between are strange, jittery slabs of harmonies flooding skull-crushing guitar work. “Hands Resist Him” is the only full song that gets out unscathed, thanks to a machine gun rapid closing section, relying on a spidery guitar lead and clicking drums that nearly recall punk. But, even then, most of it sounds like Ghost B-side material. The rest is an amnesia-inducing morass of half-baked riffs, sleepy vocal work and an overwhelming sense of musical malaise that infects the album with apathy.
There are highs that properly trap the body and mind, ascending the total into unforeseen plains. Even without certain illicit substances, the best of stoner metal can take any wonderer to those mystic places. With Pilgrims, Stoned Jesus seems content to dabble and sell the weak shit that leaves you with a cough and a nagging feeling of being ripped off.