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In Extremis

Doom Is A State Of Mind: An Interview With Kongh
Toby Cook , April 24th, 2014 01:40

With Swedish doom trio Kongh set to play at Desertfest this weekend, Toby Cook catches up with guitarist David Johansson to chat slowed-down-Sabbath and weed (or lack thereof)

There might be nothing in a name, and let's face it, if you're going to name your band something like Stoner Kebab, Bong Swallower or Johnny THC & The Cannibettes, while it's bluntly obvious what you're about, who cares? What have you really got live up to when you're named Stoner fucking Kebab? Name yourself after the gargantuan, dinosaur thumping ape from Hell (well, somewhere in the South Pacific), however, and you'd better make damn sure that you deliver a suitably colossal sonic wallop. Swedish power trio Kongh, then, are more than aptly named.

Living up to your name is one thing, but living up to the perceived ideas of what a 'stoner' doom band should be is another entirely; right from their formation in the small town of Småland in 2004, Kongh have continually set themselves apart as one of the few doom bands who, within mere moments of you first hearing them, dispel all notions that playing doom is simply a case of 'get stoned, downtune, play Sabbath slowly'.

Yes, Kongh sound undoubtedly influenced by the foggy, introspective malaise brought on by certain horticultural augmentations, but even as far back as their debut full length, 2007's Counting Heartbeats, and even more prominently throughout its prodigious follow up – 2009's Shadows Of The Shapeless – here was a band able to seamlessly veer between thumping doom grooves, droning, Yob-like tantric meanders and dark, creeping Neurosis-esque twitches, while throwing in all the Sleep and Sabbath worship they could cram in too. In fact it's actually pretty insulting to label them mere stoners – but then again, perhaps we should've expected nothing less from a doom band hailing from the same country that gave the world Candlemass.

What makes Kongh standout from many of their peers and their half-baked, endless recycling of Master Of Reality and Holy Mountain, is - like their namesake perhaps - the constantly battling duality of their nature. At once thunderous, punishing, wild and building-climbing – as fit for an afternoon spent sucking on a skull bong as anything Electric Wizard has to offer – and yet, at the same time, ethereal, unpredictable, deep and able to harness the sort of warped melody any of their peers would kill for. Nowhere is the consolidation of these two sonic elements more apparent than throughout last year's monumental and expansive Sole Creation.

Live, too, Kongh are more than deserving of their hairy moniker – having in the last few years alone toured the globe with the not just the likes of their doomy brethren Yob, but also with kings of the hegemony destroying time signature (and fellow Swedes) Meshuggah. However, experiencing the trio live is not quite, as you might have expected, akin to being dragged up a mountain in the doomy, hairy palm of the beast. Rather, it's something like watching the sacrificial fire dances of the great ape's island keepers (if Kong's island keepers dug Sabbath) – a raw, slightly deranged yet engrossing build towards a thunderous, cascading release, leading to involuntary head nodding.

Despite appearances, there are few in the world of doom quite like Kongh at the moment – so, with the trio heading over to London this weekend to play Desertfest, we thought it high time that we caught up with guitarist David Johansson to talk about the doom revival, the unessential nature of marijuana and playing your first show in front of a crowd made up of patients from the local psychiatric hospital…

You're celebrating a decade of being a band this year – how does it feel? I imagine that when you started the band you never thought it'd last this long – or did you?

DJ: It feels great actually. It wasn't until just a couple of months ago that I realised that it's been ten years this spring. It's kind of a weird feeling, but it also makes sense when we look back at everything we've done. Ten years ago we didn't think ten years ahead, more like ten days ahead!

You must have plenty of memories and tall tales from those ten years – what is your fondest memory of your time in Kongh so far?

DJ: Some highlights would be when we released our first album (or any album for that matter); getting to tour with some of our favourite bands (Yob, Meshuggah, Switchblade, Ocean Chief) and probably hundreds more things I don't remember right now.

What is the strangest thing that has happened to you during that time? (I once interviewed a band who had illegal immigrants sneak into their trailer at Calais during one tour, for example.)

DJ: I think the strangest thing we've done happened before we had even recorded anything. Back in 2005, we did our first show in front of fifteen patients from the local psychiatric hospital! It was arranged by one of the women who worked there, whose daughter was a friend of ours. They basically showed up in our rehearsal space one Saturday evening and we gave them fifty minutes of extreme doom. I'm unsure of the point of this event, but we had a good time, and I think some of the attendees did too… Maybe.

What have been some of the toughest things you've had to go through with the band since it started?

DJ: Personally, getting a super-flu while being in the middle of a five week tour, which is something I don't recommend.

Doom is undergoing a real resurgence at the moment – certainly in the UK anyway; in the 80s and 90s it was virtually ignored, despite the great bands, and now there are festivals like Desertfest that almost owe their existence to it. Why do you think it has finally achieved such relative popularity?

DJ: I don't know, but personally I'm not a huge fan of the 80s doom bands, I prefer the ones who started to emerge during the 90s and later, and of course the doomy bands from the 70s, like Sabbath. Also, during the 80s, many of the metal subgenres were fairly new or still under development, so maybe doom got overshadowed by the more 'energetic' styles like thrash, death, etc. I think also that due to the comparatively obscure nature of doom it also needed its time to grow into the established force it is today. But that's just my quick take on it, I'm not a metal professor.

Would you describe Kongh as a 'doom' band? What are the limitations of doom, if indeed there are any?

DJ: Yes, I would say we're a doom band, but not to the point that I would get upset if anyone disagreed. Doom is a big influence for us, but for me doom is more like a state of mind than it is a strict genre for which you have to follow a number of special rules in order to be approved. I suppose doom has different meanings for different people. And, I mean, there are a lot of sub-styles within the doom genre, so it's not like all doom bands sound exactly the same way. But doom as a phenomenon has always been important to us, both as listeners of music and musicians.

Many have this idea about doom that it is basically 'down tune; get stoned; play Sabbath slowly'. Why is that idea wrong? Or is it?

DJ: Well, that band you described there could either be crappy as hell or absolutely amazing. The first band that comes to my mind from that description is Sleep, who are one of my favourite bands. Then there are a lot of bands who (I assume) neither get stoned nor use Sabbath as their primary inspiration, yet they can manage to produce something doom-oriented anyway. If somebody thinks that all doom metal is just cheap, slowed down, Sabbath-rip-off music, well, that's their loss.

How essential is marijuana to the music of Kongh, in terms of both its creation and the enjoyment of it?

DJ: Actually I'm the most creative when I'm sober. I do like intoxication, but I've never felt that it's in any way essential for being creative. So no, marijuana or any other drug is non-essential when it comes to the creation of our music. When it comes to the enjoyment of the music, I'd say that'd be a personal matter for all the individuals who listen to us. I don't know.

What inspires the music and the style of Kongh?

DJ: Nothing and everything.

And just finally, you're also part of the on/off "primitive black/death metal" band The Eternal Void, with members of Switchblade and Craft – what's happening with that at the moment? When might we get a chance to hear some music from you guys?

DJ: We're planning to make a recording really soon. We have some songs ready…. But you'll just have to wait!

Kongh play at this year's Desertfest, which takes place in Camden this weekend, 25th-27th April. For more information and tickets, as well as the full line-up details, click here to visit the Desertfest site.