No Return by Hashtronaut

Release date: March 22, 2024
Label: Blues Funeral Recordings

These kids have certainly done their homework. Sure, occasionally this album sounds like they asked Chat GPT to come up with some towering stoner-doom tracks that sound like Electric Wizard or Monolord, but by and large this is a noxiously satisfying pean to marijuana. And they have been meticulous in their research.

The lineage is clear to hear. This little leaf on the stoner-doom tree has roots stretching back to Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath, through branches of Sleep and Candlemass and boughs of Bongzilla.   

And it will come as no surprise to hear that their lyrical influences, sung mostly clean and with great gusto by Daniel Smith, are green and sticky.  Even before you drop the needle, the name Hashtronaut and the song titles (‘Lung Ruiner’ anyone?) don’t exactly hide the fact that these guys enjoy a toke or two – or at least get a kick out of singing about reefer, as the youngsters like to call it.

The opening track, ‘Rip Wizard’, sets the mood, beginning with samples of public service announcements and bubbling bongs, before the frankly massive riff kicks in and Smith repeats a verse about Panopticon’s Hammer, a wizard and “smoking it aaaall” with the final word sung in an impressively high note.

There’s another public service announcement from the archives, warning about the “mind-muddling” properties of marijuana (comically calling it the “hula hoop of the jet generation”) midway through the cosmic sounding ‘Cough it Up’. It begins aggressively, but then settles into a fuzzy, flangy groove with a watery, effect-laden vocal. You may be thinking by this point, two songs into the album, why should we bother – after all, the touchstones are obvious, the subject matter is well covered and even the guitar tone is pretty familiar.

But wait: think of it as smoking a bowl with a new pipe – or with an analogy more suited to my demographic, buying a new pair of glasses. The effect is familiar, but there is the thrill of gaining it a little differently. Just because you know what it is coming, the fact that what you get is exactly what you expected, just a bit shinier, is not a drawback.

And wearing your influences on your sleeve has been a hallmark of guitar music since Buddy Holly tried to ape Elvis Presley’s vocal tics. Fu Manchu made a career playing fat riffs a bit like Blue Cheer and singing about vans and pool skating. Rancid took the easy bits from the first three Clash albums and put them to lyrics about living tough in northern California – and it has given them a 30-year career.

So if Hashtronaut want to place more footprints on the well-trodden path of weed-themed stoner-doom, let them – especially as they do it very well and have obviously been listening to the right bits of the best bands as influences. A quick trawl through their previous EP reveals that they did not always have such a single-minded vision; this album is a huge improvement on their first effort.

And the leap forwards is exemplified on ‘Carcinogen’ and ‘Dead Cloud’, the former an eight-minute dour epic with harsh vocals and the latter a kind of doom power ballad. Both demonstrate Smith’s vocal range and the tightness of the band itself. And by the time ‘Marsquake’ an instrumental number with a soaring guitar solo (presumably played by Robb Park, who is billed as “stunt guitar” in the liner notes), is finished, you’ll be ready to roll another one. Just make sure you wake up before the final track, ‘Blast Off’ a 30-second onslaught as fast as Motörhead.

One disappointment on the album is ‘Hex’ – and the downer is that it is under two minutes long. The riff is hypnotic and I could listen to it for far longer than it sticks around for.

But that is a minor quibble. This album is definitely worth your time and money – even if there is little to surprise you.

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