An In-Depth Retrospective of Space Bong ’s The Death of Utopia
Space Bong’s The Death of Utopia
written by Lachlan R. Dale
Though few know it, Australia is an incubator for some of the darkest and most deranged music the world has to offer. This could be a function of our geographic isolation or lack of historical-cultural roots – but it could also be something more serious; a symptom of trauma buried deep in our collective unconscious. This is a nation, after all, that is predicated on the suffering and displacement of the country’s First Peoples, a fact which we are yet to fully confront or atone for. Perhaps our mutated art is an expression of the violent conflict raging that quietly rages for the soul of the nation.
At the heart of this island lies more than 1.3 million square kilometers of desert. Most of the population do whatever they can to avoid this vast and ancient wasteland, taking refuge in towns and cities clustered beside the sea. Some – like Adelaide in South Australia – have developed into sprawling dystopian monuments to the failed promises of late-stage capitalism, offering an endless succession hardware megastores, oversized fast food chains, and decaying housing that stretches as far as the eye can see. These man-made wastelands aptly mirror our the country’s barren heart, and the darkness of our colonial history.
Adelaide is a strange and dark town. My early experiences there recall an atmosphere of dysfunction and hopelessness; of anarchism, grime and substance abuse. It seems fitting that Australia’s greatest doom band, Space Bong, was born here.
Drawing from the disgust of EYEHATEGOD, the sonic terror of Darkthrone, and the drone of Sunn O))), the South Australian six-piece have perfected a form of doom that conveys the very essence of isolation and despair. Neanderthal drum beats support immense, lumbering riffs that seem to take a full minute to resolve, while over the top two voices rave – one a gruff and guttural raw, the other a deranged and demonic shriek.
Repetition and glacial pace are key: as miserable figures are repeated again and again the listener is first induced into an incapacitating trance, then sucked down into a k-hole of depression and misanthropy.
This effective use of dirge and drone is what makes Space Bong so unique. While these techniques are traditionally found in religious rituals and mystical practises the world over, utilising them in such a bleak context allows the band to articulate a vision of of gut-churning despair that is elevated to an almost transcendent degree.
Though their music is undeniably very negative, it would be wrong to call Space Bong nihilistic, for beneath their extreme expression of pain, hopeless and frustration lies a deep yearning for something more; a sense that other possibilities exist beyond the shallow vision of life sold to us by consumer-capitalism. And this is what The Death of Utopia articulates so effectively: the exact nature of what civilisation has lost in these recent centuries; our connection with nature and each other, our strength and independence, our “soul”, and our very humanity.
Remarkably, after sixty five minutes of the most suffocating misanthropy and despair, the album finishes on a note a redemption:
Yet beneath all the hate
There are a few that make
Life something than rather nothing
But only a few…
This dark age can’t take away
What has always been the same
Our scent, our soul, our Deathpunk fucking hell
We hurt because we love
We think because we feel
I’d rather die than live in your world
While this spark of hope remains obscure, having conducted a number of interviews with the band over the years, I have had a chance to learn of their passion for eco-anarchism, sustainability, and permaculture. While the chance of mankind’s survival is slim (and perhaps, from an ecological perspective, not even desirable), small-scale solutions still remain. While our species might be doomed, perhaps the individual soul can still be saved.
Few bands – especially in the metal world – are capable of expressing such a complex and nuanced ideas through their music.
Space Bong remain a high water mark for sonic intensity, and one of the absolute perfectors of trance inducing drone. From the opening riffs to the immense crescendo, The Death of Utopia still crushes me a full eight years on from its original release.
For fans of doom’s rising stars such as Conan, Cough, Bongripper and Primitive Man, Space Bong are absolutely essential listening
The average track-length of The Death of Utopia sits at 17-minutes. As if these bruising songs were not enough, Space Bong have interspersed the album with bursts of harsh noise which sear the psyche – a sort of act of purging and purification before the next forced march towards oblivion begins.
As these miserable figures repeat again and again, the listener is gradually sucked under by a strong tide of despair.
This focus on dirge and drone creates an expression of misery, agony and hatred that is elevated to an almost transcendent degree.
It’s an album that is utterly uncompromising in its vision: the passages of consciousness-searing noise provided by X show an utter disregard for uncommitted listeners.
Few doom bands can compete in terms of song-writing skills
Occasionally laden with stoner groove or blues leads
The opening track (Intro) Utopia features ninety seconds of crackling noise before dropping the listener in a pit of despair, wallowing in the mire. For a full sixteen minutes this song pummels and listener. Bleak
Death Kneel (The New Death) opens with a surprisingly upbeat stoner groove, but the reprieve is short lived. Soon Space Bong tunnel into one of the bleakest
I can still recall my first experience of the band. They played in the back of some seedy teen dance club. It was the first time I experienced the trance-inducing sound of masterful drone – an experience which has been incorporated into countless religious contexts, from Whirling Dervishes to Tibetan Monks. It represents a transcendence. What was it this band wanted to transcend?
It is sad to reflect that X years on, Space Bong remain largely undiscovered in global doom. Were they born in the US, or possessing the resources to tour Europe, their name would surely be known among the likes of X.
I can still remember the first time I witnessed Space Bong. It was 2009, and we were crammed into the back room of a seedy dance club in the Adelaide CBD.
In the front room a DJ played an unending succession of sleazy club hits, while a few dozen men, illuminated by blue light, encircled three girls on the dance floor.
The clash of cultures couldn’t be more different.
I had just played myself, so I stood in a daze in front of the stage waiting for the band to begin, turning over whether I should stay or quietly slip out for some dinner.
Then their guitarist Dave Gibson plugged in his guitar and launched into a beautiful rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Red House. “Oh shit,” I thought to myself, “there’s something going on here.”
When they began their set, it was like the earth had split in two and begun to spew forth immense boulders of molten rock. They played these immense riffs which seems to take twenty seconds to complete a rotation.
The volume was like anything I had ever experienced.
With the whole band hammering a dirging drone over and over and over again for the first time in my life I slipped into a trance. My perception of time completely evaporated. I was glued to the spot. It was as if I was hypnotised
This was a turning point for me in music. Until then I had spent most my time listening to grindcore, death metal and hardcore punk – but now I understood the immense, soul-crushing power of doom. I was hooked.
All photos below by LALA photography
Space Bong will be appearing in Melbourne and Sydney to play their debut doom opus, The Death Of Utopia, in it’s excruciating entirety. A 4 song, 70-minute expression of ultra-underground modern doom, The Death Of Utopia is a treatise, a manifesto of drug-induced emptiness, despair and ultimately, salvation, that has inspired countless fans and musicians to walk the path of honesty and suffering. Few Australian bands are able to capture the sonic misery and self-hate that emanates from this 7-piece doom orchestra.
Released a lifetime ago in 2009 by Sydney DIY label, An Out Recordings, The Death Of Utopia was recorded live without any mixing or mastering, and is now considered an underground classic salvaged from deletion only by luck, to slowly make its way around the world to praise and distain. The Death Of Utopia is the (re)living of pain and toxic abuse that will continue to hold its true meaning as trends come and go.