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Snake Magnet by Kong

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Reviewed on 6th June 2009.


Snake Magnet

By Kong

While Manchester's Kong have their own distinct sound, Brew Records' latest release continues in the vein of previous signings, most notably improvised prog-rockers Castrovalva, and the mental vocal stylings of Chickenhawk.

Kong churn out mind-bending, punk-tinged prog soundscapes that always labour after the unusual, avant-garde effect, rather than what's catchy and enjoyable. It's the sort of challenging art-rock you can appreciate and analyse, but it's impossible to enjoy, as you would usually expect to enjoy music.

Right from the start, Kong make it clear their debut album, 'Snake Magnet,' isn't going to be an easy ride. Album-opener 'Leather Penny' is a song that occupies the mind-boggling point where spazzcore meets art-rock.

'Snake Magnet' dolls out only a handful of vocals per song, and 'Leather Penny' is no exception, although this isn't a problem, as Kong are frequently at their most bruising during their instrumentals. The punishing instrumental beginning and end-sections of 'Leather Penny,' take a bass roar, and splatter it with raw-sounding chords that hitch and scratch away at random. The result is a lumbering, bass-heavy behemoth of sound with a mad gleam in its eye.

Inbetween these instrumental book-ends, is a jumble of guitars that squeak, squeal, whine, and generally make whatever noise Kong can twist out of them. But, by the end of the song, it's the more restrained beginning and end that'll be lodged in your head.

Second track 'Blood of a Dove' is surprisingly pared down, although what little there is, is well put-together. Ninety per cent of the song consists of a scratchy guitar refrain that slides off into the occasional, shrill whine. Looped to within an inch of its life over a pulsing bass, it's horrible and addictive in equal measures.

'Blood of a Dove' makes a final bid to break the listener's sanity, by bringing the drums and the bass to the top of the mix, while frontman Magpie (possibly not his real name) wails away in the background in a nightmarish soundscape that'll have you hooked.

Just when you thought things couldn't get any stranger, Kong deliver 'Wet Your Knives,' six minutes of insanity that eclipses everything we've heard so far.

For the first minute and a half, it seems like Kong are playing one song, when they really want to be playing another. They keep trotting out a neat bit of guitar picking, whilst bursting into a second, completely different song at random intervals, before switching back to the first song and carrying on like nothing's happened.

It's an effective trick, as the second song sounds like riotous, metal-tinged punk in the style of 'Leather Penny,' and you'll be willing Kong to launch into that song proper.

However, once they comply, it's clear that this isn't going to be a straightforward 'Leather Penny'-style rant. Kong insist on throwing in sparser passages that don't work nearly as well as when 'Wet Your Knives' goes for a bulkier sound. Kong need that weight to hold their more experimental flourishes together.

When Kong strip 'Wet Your Knives' down to the basics, they also keep repeating themselves, and the simplicity combined with the repetition makes for surprisingly boring listening. The chords they employ may be unusual, but they quickly begin to dull after the sixth, seventh, eighth repetition. The vocals do add some variety to proceedings, as Magpie rants, raves, barks, and seems to be speaking in tongues, but there's no denying that 'Wet Your Knives' is more entertaining when it's describing a rich and noisy soundscape. 'Wet Your Knives' is a mixed bag.

Kong's love of sticking basic beats on a loop, is also a problem with 'Sport,' which is the album's weakest offering. As 'Sport' stutters along with broken-up guitars, random drum flourishes and the occasional screeched vocal, the overall impression is of a song that never quite gets into its groove.

'A Hint of Rennit, Innit' begins and expires on a high, but lags in the middle, again due to that ill-advised combination of basic beats and repetition.

Interestingly with 'A Hint of Rennit, Innit,' the beginning and end-sections work for completely different reasons. Kong initially tread a restrained path, with a groovy bass line that shimmies stylishly along. Conversely, the end-section is pure, noisy aggression, as stomping riffs trade off randomly squealing chords. And the intensity levels rise, as the drums rev up and gnashing riffs tear and rage around those churning beats.

Unfortunately, while the beginning and end are engaging, the bit in the middle picks out an unusual rhythm, and then keeps on picking out that same rhythm, until you're completely sick of it. It's a great song, but it'll test your patience.

'Gwant' may begin in the sparse fashion that's usually dubious territory for Kong but, in this instance, starting off simple allows them to build to a dramatic high.

Kicking off with creepy, Horror-movie synths, 'Gwant' then lurches into jerking riffs that are broken up with bursts of squealy sound effects, giving the impression that 'Gwant' is a song struggling to break free. The anticipation of this eventual breaking out, will keep you riveted.

When 'Gwant' does finally erupt, it's surprisingly conventional metal-tinged punk. The gnashing guitar lines, jet-black bass and shouty punk vocals are the sound of Kong's demented energy harnessed into something that'll lure you into its madness, rather than repel you.

Following an introduction of random mutterings, 'Count To Nine' proves to be an even more conventional take on the Kong experience. Its spiky punk riffs and rumbling drum licks are pretty straightforward, in comparison to the rest of this album, but they're guaranteed to draw you in.

Kong evolves smoothly from this starting point. At first, the guitars and the drums keep trailing off into a whining, purposefully 'duff'-sounding chord, before the drums rise to the front of the mix and the riffs speed up, in a headlong dash for the finish line.

'Count To Nine' is the easiest and most enjoyable song on 'Snake Magnet.'

It feels inevitable that Kong should dabble in electronica, and this is exactly what they do with 'Good Graphics.' Five minutes of every electronic effect you can imagine, beep, buzz and whirl around an unobtrusive, shuffling drumbeat. It would be ambient rock, if it wasn't so squeaky and abrasive. While it's masterfully put together, 'Good Graphics' is lacking the aggression and intensity of the rest of this album.

Album highlight 'Nih' seizes the listener right from the opening notes, as Magpie gnashes his teeth and makes what basically amounts to random noises, but those noises describe a hooky melody that'll get fixed firmly in your head. 'Nih' then follows in 'Gwant's footsteps, as the riffs are broken up by squeaky guitar-shunting and Magpie's foaming-at-the-mouth vocals, before the song lets rip and becomes one long howl.

During the last minute, Kong really go for the listener's throat, with one-hundred-mile-an-hour guitar grinding and shrapnel vocals that'll make you desperate to experience Kong live - just to see whether Magpie really can make those sort of noises.

As is often the case with 'Snake Magnet,' 'Nih' shakes itself apart during the closing bars, and this chaotic, shambolic sound isn't almost as terrifying as Kong in single-minded rage mode. But, unnecessary end-section mucking about aside, 'Nih' is a shot of nerve-flaying, extreme punk.

Eight minute long album-closer 'K(l)ong' opens in surprisingly delicate fashion, as simple guitar picking bounces off the percussion. It's a catchy enough exchange, but, with this twenty-odd seconds of music repeated for over three minutes, 'K(l)ong' is likely to have all but the most patient of souls hitting the 'fast forward' button.

After roughly three minutes, Kong begin throwing the odd guitar crunch into the mix, but don't get too excited, as it takes a further two minutes for those bits of riffing to blend into a stream of groaning guitars and thumping drumbeats.

That this song is one hell of a slog is undeniable. It's technically impressive, and its meticulously put-together soundscape evolves effortlessly and organically. However, although it's one you can certainly admire from a technical point of view, it isn't really something you can enjoy, which is a neat summary of this album.

'Snake Magnet' is probably more likely to find a home with people who make music, rather than those who just listen to it. At its most angular, it's only possible to appreciate the originality and musicianship, although there are moments where Kong put the pedal to the metal, and deliver no fills punk aggression that's good, hair-raising fun. Safe to say that if you liked Castrovalva, Chickenhawk or have a passing affection for Pulled Apart By Horses, then you'll love this.



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