Friday, June 20, 2008

Greenleaf - Agents of Ahriman

Ok, it's official.

We here at The Ripple have decided that Sweden must be the best place in the world to live. Not only do they dominate the only sport that matters, winning the last Olympic gold medal (yes, that would be hockey for those who have to ask) but they also boast arguably the best defensemen to ever play the game (Nicolas Lidstrom), and the current Conn Smyth trophy winner (Henrik Zetterberg). Heck, with the arrival of Henrik Lundquist you can't even make fun of their goaltenders anymore. Now if only someone would buy a bionic foot for Peter Forsburg. . .

But in addition to their hockey prowess, Sweden is a country that loves its music and it seems that those Swedes have learned to dominate just about every music genre that matters, covering all bases with top-quality exports. You like psychedelic prog? Try Deadman. Garagey punk rock? The Hellacopters, the Hives and Backyard Babies got you covered. Prog metal? Opeth wrote the book, baby. Trettioariga Kriget and The Soundtrack of our Lives play prog rock like none other and don't even get me started on their contributions to Death metal, Doom or the Gothenburg sound. Let's face it, those wacky Swedes can do it all.

And now there's Greenleaf, the latest revelation to toke back a joint and belt out a massively fuzzed out stoner-seventies riff. In truth, it was only a matter of time before the Swedes took over the head of the stoner rock mantle, they'd been bubbling just underneath the surface for a while with quality bands like Lowrider, Dozer, Electric Wizard, and Spiritual Beggars. So, just what do you think would happen if some of those leading forces of Swedish stoned-out metal joined together in an unholy THC-laced matrimony, creating a supergroup of bong-fueled heavy rock? The answer is what we've got spinning nonstop on our Ripple turntable right now, a mini-masterpiece of grooving bass lines, cranked up riffs and enough melody to hook the whole thing together and blow that baby through your peace pipe.

Originally formed in late 1999 by guitarist Tommi Holappa (Dozer), drummer Daniel Liden (Demon Cleaner, Dozer), and engineer/bassist Bengt Backe, the band operates like a Swedish Queens of the Stoneage, featuring a revolving cast of fellow musicians who share a love of heavy fuzz rock. Guest so far include members of Dozer, Stonewall Orchestra, Lowrider, the Truckfighters, Payback and a handful of others who happened to wander into the studio. And let me tell you, for a loose alliance of friends getting together to lay down a vibe, they're good. Really good. This is stoner rock the way it's supposed to be, big and loud, exuberant and loaded with enough muscle to make Arnold look like a poser on a fifth grade playground.

Coming to us from the fine folks at Smallstone Recordings, perhaps the world's finest purveyor of stoner hard rock, Agents of Ahriman is a beast of an album. "Highway Officer," sets us in motion, an atypical riff shrieking out to a stuttering start until that bass comes rolling in. Instantly accessible and so hook-laden it could take a trout fishing championship. And actually, that's one problem I have with the genre, not the music, just the name. Stoner rock has become a catch-all for all heavy, seventies inspired, riff-monster rock. The problem is, it just don't fit anymore. What I'm hearing right now has more in common with any number of great '70's riff metal bands than many droning stoner releases like Sleep or High on Fire. We need a new name, something that captures the passion, intensity, high energy and honesty with which these boys rip through their riffs. Something that captures the groove and the fun these guys are obliviously having. This is rock and roll, baby. Just great heavy, party-hard rock and roll.

"Treehorn," follows next with a vocal hook as good as any you'll find in the genre, sung over a pulsating bass line and shimmering guitar. "Alishan Mountain," with it's underlying organ hiding below the bottom heavy riff leading to the soaring chorus sounds like it could have been a lost track from BTO's Not Fragile album, and I mean that in the best possible way. "Black Tar," follows suit, Grand Funk for the new millennium, power-driving rock and roll, with a bass line so heavy it'll make your colon spasm.

Following "The Lake," an intensely melodic rocker, the title track "Agents of Ahriman," brings in the first true hint of a spaced-out stoner vibe, a distorted bass pulsing out the heartbeat until the cosmically heavy guitars rip in. This is Greenleaf's most ambitious effort, their epic du force, a moment of stoner prog. To cut the bullshit, this is their moment of greatness. Then, lest you think the boys are starting to take themselves too seriously, "Ride Another Highway," roars back, a pounding, thundering slab of straight out '70's metal, updated and injected for a new day. And so the album goes, straight to the closer, the very strong "Stray Bullit Woman." The boys got it covered.

So what's a guy to do. Well, we at The Ripple have decided if you can't beat em, join em. We're currently looking around Central Stockholm, digging through the district of Norrmalm, trying to find a new loft to set up shop. Yep, we're moving to Sweden, committed to basking for the rest of our days in the greatness of hockey and music. And meatballs. But if we can't actually convince our wives to pack up their lives and move, then I guess we'll just have to console ourselves with the NHL Center Ice and the great flood of Swedish bands that keep coming our way.


Buy Greenleaf here: Agents of Ahriman

The boys don't have a current video, so check out these sites to sample their music.

These are some videos from Dozer, an integral part of the Greenleaf sound.

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