The 90’s are not generally the most beloved of musical eras. The golden age of metal waned into an age of alt rock and grunge, with its faux-tough sensibilities and often minimalistic songcraft compared to the high-speed technical intricacies of classic heavy and thrash metal. All empires must fall, however, and alt rock and grunge found their wings clipped just the same, as the old millennium sighed into the new. Back in those days, an outfit calling themselves Jolly Mon were trying to turn ripples into waves around the Pacific northwest. They must have sensed the time was not right for them, because much like Pennywise the Clown, Jolly Mon went into hibernation for over a decade and a half. Now re-emerging from the ruins of their native Eugene, with their first album in 18 years and without a space in their name, does Jollymon do justice to the intervening time period or did they get stuck in a double decade old mindset?
The answer is a bit of both and then some. Certainly, there are clearly recognizable influences from their original decade. There’s a definite Rage Against the Machine vibe in “Monkey Hawk”’s scratchy chugs, and the flavors of alternative rock are the lifeblood of the ‘motherfucker’ laden “A Good Day.” Hint of grunge dither across Void Walker, most prominently in reflective closer “Sky Burial.” But joining the 90’s sounds are influences from several decades earlier, with Jimi Hendrix-style wah-wah pedals a common recurrence, and both the back-half of the title track and multiple passages throughout “Slice of Life” paying homage to Pink Floyd mellow spaciness. All these references make Jollymon sound like a ratatouille of eras, but they are merely flavoring on the underlying base, a solidly rocking foundation of funk-tinged stoner metal that recalls Clutch on more than one occasion.
The trio behind Jollymon clearly haven’t spent the intervening time sitting on their asses. Vocalist and bass player Carey Rich is the most prominent figure in the band, and not just for his vocals. The bass is richly prominent across the record, providing much of the funk influence and making the low-end a pleasure to listen to. The low tones settle pleasantly in the pit of the stomach and bounce around there, making it hard to sit still when listening to the infectious grooves. Rich’s vocals are nothing to scoff at either. He does gruff stoner-shout vocals as easily as dreamy, spacey cleans, even going into the breathed high tones Mike Patton is most famous for (not at that level, but nonetheless very ably.) The other band members keep up just fine. The guitars feature solid, groovy riffs, as any stoner band should, and the drums are subtly intricate, using the full kit to its maximum potential with ingenuity in the inobtrusive fills and understated cymbal use.
The biggest make-or-break factor will be your taste for the flavors of influences. The Rage Against the Machine riffs and alt rock machoisms don’t work very well, with the band trying to project a tough guy exterior they don’t live up to. But these are in the minority, and on the other hand, the Hendrixisms and Floydian spacey moments are a perfect match for the funky rollicking riffage, and such diverse grooves make up the majority of the album. Don’t let the DR5 production scare you away either: for an album this loud, they achieve excellent clarity and definition, thanks to a good mix (with bonus points to the bass.)
Overall, Void Walker has Jollymon rising from the ashes with a fun, diverse and unpretentious little album full of groovy tunes and bouncy riffs, straddling the ridge between 90’s hard rock and stoner metal like they had never left in the first place. While some aspects of their original era don’t work too well, it doesn’t detract much from the quality of the whole. This is the perfect time for this release: summer rolling around, with plenty of time to bob your head as you take the car out for a spin with the windows down and the music up, one hand on the wheel and the other tapping along on the steering wheel. Good to have you back, Jollymon.