Album Review: Bokassa – Crimson Riders

Welcome to the hard-living, harder rocking world of Bokassa

It’s not every day that metal gods deign to pluck unknowns from the underground. Norwegian stoner-punk trio Bokassa, however, currently find themselves in the stadiums of Europe warming up Metallica’s crowds. When Lars Ulrich last year earmarked the unheralded Trondheim trio as his “new favourite band”, it wasn’t just a vote of confidence in their concussive blend of groovy heaviness and hardcore attitude, but in their rejection of heavy music’s usual conventions, and their raging, high-voltage chemistry that’s so much more than the sum of its parts. True grit, see, is tough to fake.

It’s not southern-fried licks or black-eyed breakdowns that set this lot apart. It’s a zero-bullshit mindset that sees everything inauthentic, non-essential and not nailed down cast to the wind. Tellingly, the lads themselves were as stunned as anyone by said high-profile endorsement (their gleeful Facebook post in the wake of Lars’ ‘It’s Electric’ radio show is the stuff of metal dreams come true), but rather than letting conceit, ambition or idle distraction muddy their focus, they’ve thrillingly held course. Picking up where 2017 debut Divide & Conquer left off, this riotous second LP feels like the perfect escalation.

Foreboding intro Brologue aside, the eight full tracks here unfold flab-free, powered by raw riffs across a backdrop of good times, hard knocks, spent fag-ends, broken bottles and grimy camaraderie. Lyrically, it’s a collection of gnarly, raw narratives that track a colourful cast of cult leaders, power-tripping border police, boozy anti-heroes and intergalactic pirates. Their dog-toothed attack – indebted to the hard-hitting heritage of Kvelertak, Cancer Bats and Billy Talent as well as Bad Religion and Kyuss – undulates between serrated violence, two-stepping punishment, punky boldness and freewheeling prog. High energy is key, not to mention a deceptively understated grasp of theatricality.

‘We drown our sorrow in blood and tears,’ seethes vocalist/guitarist Jørn Kaarstad as Charmed & Extremely Treacherous explodes in a rain of ‘woah-oh’s and unruly malevolence. Elsewhere, Vultures zig-zags with a razorblade swagger, before Captain Cold One namechecks a swathe of metalcore heroes while making every effort to surpass their stomp. It’s a staggering exploration of just how many ways there are to make a sonic attack without sacrificing an ounce of momentum. And that’s before seven-minute closer Immortal Space Pirate 2 moves into view, a climactic sprawl that leaves enough solar wind in their sails to reach infinity and beyond.

Full credit to Lars: no matter how big Metallica have become, he’s remained an enthusiastic cheerleader for new, exciting rock music. And when he nails his colours to a prospect as “insanely fucking cool” as Bokassa, you can bet your house that they deliver the goods big time.

Verdict: KKKK

Posted on June 21st 2019, 6:00pm
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