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In early 2013, the Indonesian government launched an expedition down into the depths of the Marianas Trench to investigate the existence of the Great Barrier Reefer, reportedly one of the heaviest and biggest plants known to humans. Rumors of its mysterious behavior and odd destructive consciousness among scuba divers and other deep-sea explorers have long stirred people's interest, and a publicly known study of this anomaly was the only way to clear things up once and for all. There was only one man daring, curious and stoned enough to travel down to the deepest point on the ocean floor and record observations of a big, weird, and not-necessarily-real plant, however; a hairy Canadian who smelled of smoked sausage and actually tried to convince us that Neige hadn't heard shoegaze prior to recording Souvenirs d'un Autre Monde. What was meant to be a two-week expedition for him turned into more than two months; finally, 79 days after the mission began, he slowly surfaced, permanently incoherent and babbling like an idiot. The only anecdotal evidence that managed to be salvaged was this disconnected series of transcripts, although the issues this guy was having clearly...originated down there. Even with this much evidence, so much of the Great Barrier Reefer remains a mystery, and the government refuses to release any further detail or writings about the Great Barrier Reefer other than these few selections. So much for complete transparency, assholes.
Well, this looks like a bust. So far, since the beginning, it's just been empty, open-note ocean. I'm starting to doubt whether or not this thing even exists; I'm pretty deep down at this point, and still, nothing to be heard expect for faint recorded voices. There's screams and shrieks in the distance every now and then, but they sound like something out of a movie. Still, nothing but emptiness in melodic form. Every now and then some semblance of harmony or form pops out, or things appear to speed up or slow down, but nothing has come of it yet. Light can't even penetrate the water at this point, so it's becoming slightly harder to keep track of the days. There's a...presence in these waters, but I don't know how much deeper the ocean even goes or how much longer I'll be able to last down here. The Great Barrier Reefer is nothing but folklore at this point.
Something's happening. All went oddly still for a second, and then it just exploded into view. I can't even give what I'm seeing a name, there's clouds of oily sludge rising up, the water's turned murky and grey and down on the ocean floor, it's just...writhing. The water moves according to the waves, but a conscious body seems to be twisting and distorting whatever its reach can grasp at. It's unbelievable! I'll hopefully be able to get a closer look in time, because right now I can only see flashes of that mysterious presence in the midst of murky, droning waters.
I think it might have been around day 12- can't really remember, you kind of start to lose track of the days down here, but some gorgeous riffs appeared out of the depths. Lush, melodic, and so large in quantity compared to the sparse emptiness that proceeded it, it took days for this thing to come into form but it managed to introduce itself in such an instantaneous and shocking fashion. Everything is alive, even though this thing is huge and moves slower than the waters themselves there's still more going on than you could even look at. I don't know why anybody could ever have regarded this thing as evil; there's far too much prog rock and lackadaisical melody permeating the surface, an amazing sort of deconstruction of the massive, throbbing doom drones that served as a precursor to the melodies. The clouds are clearing up, the water's becoming crystalline, and I'm finally seeing what people have been describing as the Great Barrier Reefer as it really is. It's like staring down at earth from space, it's overwhelming to the point where description feels unnecessary and I just want to take it all in.
Or is it day 23? God, I don't even know. I can't stand to reason my clock works as well down here as it does on the surface, being there's no way I just spent ten days staring at this thing and watching the immaculate melodic riffs fly out. One after the other, all different and unique yet being part of a clear pattern and framework, the legendary entities that assembled the Great Barrier Reefer have a remarkable order and structure to their creation that can only really be experienced first-hand. They've been getting increasingly lighter and more delicate as time goes on, and I will admit they may have lulled me to be very stunned and awed by their nature for a few...days...but around the time of this writing I started hearing a buzz. The water's begun to get a little cloudier around the great beast and the clouds are coming closer to my ship. This ship is pretty tightly sealed but the thick, grey clouds of dust are starting to slowly trickle through the walls of this underwater vessel. I'm starting to get kind of worried, but but not to the point that it's actively troubling. But maybe, just maybe, I'm being lulled into a false sense of security....
I don't have much time to write because I can barely see the paper I'm writing on, this entire place has been filled with grey clouds. It happened without any sort of warning, I can't see where I'm going, the melodies aren't nice anymore, they're turgid and writhing and signal the presence of doom...I need to make sure everything is stable and this ship doesn't explode. The air is getting thicker, this might be my last journal entry, I just need to get the ship the fuck out of he
It has been days on days and the torturous sludge continues to pour. every time this thing makes me think escape is possible it just hammers the same destructive riff back over my head again. The grey smoke occasionally clears up a bit and everything is sort of dark, with an emanating red glow; kind of like a darkroom, but the sense of dread I felt last time I wrote hasn't left. I've been swallowed into this thing's inner core, and it just drags you down from every angle with its huge, almost tentacle-like stem appendages. My head is spinning and I can't make sense of anything anymore, even finding the energy to write is taking all of my strength right now I have to put this pen down
At long last, I have gained the strength and clarity to account for my experiences. There's less commotion, the smoke has at long last permanently dissipated, the dreadful doom riffs no longer twist and turn me about and all is shining anew. I'm reminded of some of the greatest moments of Isis and Neurosis, but the modern post-rock influence present in most atmospheric styles of doom metal aren't really present. Instead, there is a feeling of weightlessness in melody right now that brings to mind the grungy, southern sludge of Eyehategod and the vast, spacious clean tones of Kyuss more than anything. The meaning of existence is easily understood in these waters. I don't know if I ever want to go back. There's no apparent direction to head outside of this melodic verse after the thrashing that I was just given, and for all I care, my journey could end here. This is complete bliss. Only slightly differing counterpoint melodies occasionally pop up to give the verse some texture and richness, and there's no real reason to leave this beautiful place. It's been over a month since I've eaten or drank anything under these waters, yet somehow I live to see the living, breathing beast that is the Great Barrier Reefer. Every second of existence in this realm is pure ecstasy.
I think I'm hearing double, man. The same melody's been going on for so long I hear two of them at once. Everything has lost its form, I cannot tell whether I am observing the Great Barrier Reefer from the outside looking in again or whether I am inside its very depths. The date on this entry is pretty much a wild guess, I have determined it is somewhere between day 51 and day 53 down here, so 52 was a nice compromise. What month was it when I left? What is life? Why does everybody not just visit this unexplainable plant themselves? Every day my brain fills with more questions than answers when down here as I get sucked into the story.
There's some sort of pounding tribal rhythm in the background. I don't like what it seems to signify. All else is silent.
I spoke too soon. The thrashing has begun again. You know, once you get used to it, being whipped about in a constant siege of pulsating doom riffs isn't really as bad as you think it is. Sure, it's abrasive and makes you dizzy, but it is all just part of the grand cycle of chewing you up, spitting you out, and letting your wounds heal before it does the same thing to you again. The Great Barrier Reefer takes you on a sonic rollercoaster with some of the greatest contrasts ever seen when it comes to songwriting dynamics. The peaks are ever higher and the valleys reach to new lows, and after long enough, it Stockholm Syndromes you into loving the constant barrage of dreadfully bleak doom riffs by the time you've been down here as long as I have. It may only have a singular, destructive purpose, but it succeeds so well in executing that purpose that there is no reason not to revere this as you would a god. In time, the heavy-as-lead riffs will slowly peel off their layers to reveal a heart of genuine beauty within.
I have reached the heart of the Great Barrier Reefer. It is nihilistic and ugly. Pure, untainted darkness, writhing in its droning singularity. It is similar to the ocean in that it seems as though there is nothing around and differs in the sense that it truly is all-consuming. There is nothing to be found in here but an endless trench of despair and violence, with every new note that layers itself on to the wall of sound looking to create additional dissonance as opposed to consonance. The whole album's presence is driven by the rhythms in the background that keep a very pronounced presence in the overall sound of the Great Barrier Reefer and gives it the divine sense of order and flow that it has, and they give an accent to every droning pulse that lines the conclusion of the Great Barrier Reefer. I don't know how I'm ever going to get out of this place, but I have no immediate need to leave and it gets more pleasant and harmonious in here every day. Perhaps I will not live the life you on the outside are accustomed to, but my existence will be a fulfilling one nonetheless.
I see the light. Everything has begun to slow down, and a bright aura has filled what was previously an eerie and dark place. It will still take a few days to escape and return to the surface, but the treacherous expedition finally seems to be drawn to a close. This is a dangerous beast that tosses you around like a helpless doll with its psychedelic distortion, and should be approached with extreme caution. Where the cycle ends, when and why is yet to be explained. Maybe one day, we will be prepared to examine the Great Barrier Reefer in its true form, but for now, it is relegated to the realm of legends such as bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, because the weight and power The Great Barrier Reefer has to take you on a terrific journey can only really be believed when heard with one's own ears. I think this is something everyone should explore, but not necessarily for fun. It should be a scientific sort of exploration, a meticulous observance of everything The Great Barrier Reefer entails, because the amazing sense of unity makes this an example of how obliterating, crushing doom is done with greatest effect.
Scenario: it's just past your bed-time, you've been a good little boy or girl and Mummy and Daddy have said you can listen to one more song before lights are out. What song will you choose? Why, you would choose none other than "The Great Barrier Reefer", a whopping near 80-minute monster that is also the debut album for the marvellously named Bongripper. The song has the added advantage of telling you a brief bed-time story from Revelations in the New Testament over a gentle one-note strum loop in its first seven minutes before launching straight into the music proper. The story is relayed in a peculiar multi-tracked distorted vocal that mimics the voices that might exist in your head if you were possessed by demons.
The main body of the track crashes down just before the last of the voices finishes speaking and it's an almighty shock indeed: thunderous, crust-laden riffs hit you like almost crumbly concrete tombstones and pound your head repeatedly, aided by relaxed yet quite precise drumming. The guitar sound is thick with sharp-ish noisy crunch. As the track proceeds at its steadily accelerating pace (surprisingly fast for a stoner doom / sludge metal band), the guitars become increasingly busy and take on the air of a turbulent acid-rain shower cascading down in the background, the drums are positively jaunty and a clean-toned bell-like guitar melody starts up. The rhythm changes, becoming choppy at times, and the drum-beat changes too, speeding up the song and changing the mood from serene and laid-back to frantic and near-deranged. The track passes through experimental stages such as one at about the 20th minute where the only instruments playing are two guitars, one distorted and bleeding raw texture, the other very clean, pure-toned and dreamy and tranquil in mood while its counterpoint twin tears itself apart.
An excellent section comes at the 25th minute, dominated by a repeating loop of pummelling drum-beats which the guitars imitate and with the help of effects convert into something very spaced-out and deliriously mind-spinning. There follow about 17 minutes of crazed space sludge guitar flying high in the air and clean raindrop guitar tones going splish-splash about in no particular direction while the percussion forges ahead with its own demented exploration of rhythm texture and pace amid crazed cymbal crashes. The music comes to a near-climax but withdraws teasingly into another outburst of drumming and cymbal chaos and chuggy motorik guitar texture. Past the halfway mark and the music enters a relaxed, desert-beach-hazy mode in which a lazy acoustic guitar loop repeats over and over with echoing licks ascending into space like runaway balloons.
The music changes again and again and astute listeners will have noticed that each section of the music, lasting at least 5 or 6 minutes and sometimes as long as 20, is based around a repeating riff or rhythm loop that gradually but insistently unravels or increases in intensity or mood until it becomes unrecognisable and the musicians have gone in different directions, rather as though they started at the point of the Big Bang and then everything zoomed out, expanding and spinning out variations and their variations as it does so. Generally the music speeds up, becomes choppy and unhinged, the mood is more excitable and listeners will think anything and everything that can happen, will.
If the Bongripper fellers recorded this entire track in one take (give or take a few polishes here and there), then they certainly put in a lot of effort and concentration to wring out of disparate pieces of music strung together in linear fashion something that feels quite unified, whether it be in the similar structural approach of each section of the music or in the way each succeeding section seems to build on the previous section in complexity and mood. Initially the different sections retreat from what would be their climaxes but each section gets closer and closer to the pyrotechnic stage until at last the expected Mother of All Explosive Climaxes arrives and it's a very beautiful thing to behold.
Perhaps the music could have been edited for length and the whole thing made a bit tighter but personally I don't mind the track being so winding and leisurely in parts. Some listeners will find it too long and others too short. From a purely technical point of view, I think the piece could have been separated into numbered tracks for ease of listening - but then children will be robbed of that one last song before bed-time and I wouldn't like the poor kiddies to curse me for that suggestion.
A lilting, calm, one-note theme played on a clean electric guitar introduces Bongripper’s debut, The Great Barrier Reefer. This is their best release to date; it’s the most focussed, and contains their best songwriting. Although certain individual songs on follow-up Hippie Killer would be better than anything found on this release, the album as a whole is less good. The Great Barrier Reefer takes the form of a single song of the same title, almost an hour and twenty minutes in length.
The introduction is one of my all-time favourite album opening sections. It’s just that one note over and over, in a gentle, swaying rhythm. It’s multi-tracked and layered so that it has a surprisingly emphatic presence, and doesn’t feel thin or weak. Over this, a distorted, slightly pitch-shifted treated voice performs a lengthy reading from the Book of Revelation—the passages dealing with The Great Dragon’s war on heaven, and with The Great Beast with seven heads and ten horns. In other words, these are some of the more entertaining Bible passages. Due to they way they are presented, however, the words are often slightly difficult to make out, and they aren’t so important to the experience in any case; the overall effect generated by this portion is a kind of hypnotic, mesmerising aesthetic. It really draws the listener in, projecting a rather curious, but ultimately quite gripping mood. It really endears me to the piece as a whole, which starts after some seven or eight minutes, and almost seems to come too soon. It should be pointed out, however, that I am a fan of minimalism and this section won’t appeal to everyone. However, I embolden the listener to try to appreciate it for what it is: a prologue, of sorts.
Now that the scene is set, the first big metal riff is free to blast in, and it’s a great one. The Great Barrier Reefer, apart from the intro, and some calm sections later, is primarily built around solid, groovy stoner metal riffs with minor influences from sludge and stoner doom. It’s entirely instrumental after the intro, and is performed using drums, bass, and guitar only. A liberal application of various unusual guitar techniques, to say nothing of creative riffing and thematic development, are used in order to keep the music interesting. Although the bass is not nearly as audible or prominent as it would be on later releases, careful listening reveals that it is generally to be found to be doing something interesting. Petzke is a talented performer indeed. The drums, performed by O’Connor, are also important to the overall sound, chiefly using variations in snare, bass drum, and crash symbol patterns to push the music forward. This driving effect is quite important, because while the pace is actually mid-tempo—faster than would be expected from a release of this length and nature—it does flirt with slipping into lazy, stale patterns. The drums quite effectively prevent this from occurring. This is best demonstrated by a lengthy section of clean guitar and bass that is performed without drums, near the middle of the song. Without the percussive drive, this section gets lazy, loose, and sloppy, and fairly dull as a result. It is the worst feature of the album.
The structure used in this release is fairly simple. It consists of a number of fairly lengthy sections, mostly about ten minutes long, give or take about five. Each section begins with a heavily-repeated riff. However, on each repetition, something is changed. The drummer will start adding extra fills, for instance, or the bass will perform a counterpoint melody. The use of two guitars allows for substantial alterations to the sound also—dropouts, stop/starts, harmonising or counterpoint, or sometimes one guitar will begin creating almost random-sounding noise, similar to the second guitar part on Her Highness. Clean guitar is also used on occasion to produce much mellower versions of the portions, but this gentler approach is far less often applied than on Hippie Killer. The riffs are generally built around a solid thematic core, but moderated until they are barely recognisable or identifiable. Mellower and harsher versions of the riffs are explored, and the degree of complexity changes frequently. Accordingly, they never get boring. This is a superior treatment to all of the following releases, which do use this technique, but not to the same extent. Accordingly, the longer songs on these albums can tend to drag. Additionally, although The Great Barrier Reefer does contain a couple of sections which are based more around guitar noise than anything, these tend to follow fairly logically from the metal sections and are not nearly as abstract or contextless as the noisy interludes on Hippie Killer, nor as protracted as those on Hate Ashbury. As such, this album is far more consistently enjoyable than either of those releases.
It does have to be said, however, that the decision to present the entire album as one track wasn’t necessarily entirely appropriate. When I listen to it, I hear 8 distinct sections. Bongripper would have been better advised to set these as separate tracks with numbers, similar to Hate Ashbury. Although I personally prefer to listen to albums as a whole, I know that many listeners would prefer to skip the intro and the big, over-long, clean middle section. Additionally, it’s fairly frustrating not to be able to jump back to approximately the right point if the listening session gets interrupted. I wouldn’t mind so much if this felt like it was really one song, like Dopesmoker for example, but it just doesn’t have that unified characteristic. Nor is it quite as absorbing as Sleep’s masterwork is.
Despite the flaws—most importantly, that unsatisfying middle section—The Great Barrier Reefer is a really great piece. Contrary to the experience that I have had with many bands of their ilk, Bongripper have shown that they can make their best music when they keep it simple, and don’t start dwelling on experimental pieces and noise tracts. Sometimes the foundations are the best, and this highly enjoyable slab of stoner metal/doom highlights that fact with aplomb and style.