Stonus – Aphasia Review

Stonus - Aphasia 01While I can appreciate that certain substances can enhance a listening experience, I’ve always been a bit wary of music that seems designed to appeal to folks under the influence. Maybe I was burned by the rubbish techno of my youth — so repetitive that unless hopped up on MDMA, it’s damn near unlistenable. For that reason, I’ve steered clear of a lot of stoner doom/rock. If I don’t do any drugs, why would I bother with music for which getting high is a sine qua non? Nevertheless, hot days and sweaty nights meant I was open to something psychedelic and dense. Emerging from a sickly-sweet cloud, enter Stonus, with its debut album, Aphasia. This quintet hails from Cypress but is now based in London. It plays a warm, fuzzy brand of hard rock and stoner metal in the vein of Kyuss, early Sabbath, with maybe a hint of Absolution-era Khemmis, rounded off with clean vocals in the style of classic doom. Sounds good, but the nagging thought remained: was this gonna do anything for my THC naïve mind?

The minute it kicks off, everything is shrouded in feedback so dense you can practically smell the weed on a hot Summer’s day. It also has a comforting sense of familiarity, which comes from the production. A lot of metal is poorly mixed; we all know this. Producers and bands seem fixated on the lead guitar and drums, with the bass often ignored. Here the balance is spot-on: all the instruments are emphasized and given their time in the sun. The bass, courtesy of Andreas Aristides, is a particular highlight. It roams about like a restless llama, providing crunch and weight when the riffs hit, and momentum during the softer moments. “Mania” highlights what makes his work so notable: the slow, psychedelic opening passage is thickened by his bass work, but when the hammer drops, the solid groundwork he lays holds everything together.

Speaking of dropping the hammer, that is something else Aphasia nails. The riffs slam harder than a donkey’s kick. But Stonus doesn’t rely solely on getting those neck muscles flexing. Stoner rock/metal is often a drawn-out, peripatetic affair, which spends a lot of time not really going anywhere but feeling profound about it. Aphasia, by contrast, is always building. Quiet passages abound, and occasionally head off into the realm of the psychedelic, but never for so long that attention wanders. The track, “Nadir,” is a superb example, with a gradual expansion of the initially minimal sound until a killer chord smashes you in the face. Closer “Ghost Town” starts off quietly and calmly before exploding into a Khemmis-esque riff to round things off. This control of dynamism is unusual for a band so early in its career, and the relatively lean run-time of 41 entertaining minutes whizzes by as a result.

Stonus - Aphasia 02

The real issue with Aphasia is that it’s just not particularly original. Fans of early, Welcome to Sky Valley, Kyuss will experience a major sense of deja-vu here. Stoner metal experienced a major revival in the ’90s when it finally left its glazed origins and embraced a more nuanced, propulsive direction. Aphasia sounds like it could easily have fit into that era. But it’s 2020, and reheating an old sound without any major changes no longer flies. The clean vocals are fine, and while stoner metal has never been about emphasizing vocal flexibility, it does feel like vocalist Kyriacos Frangoulis could push his range a bit more. Pallbearer has shown how compelling vocals in doom metal add depth and range to the music. Stonus could learn a few tips.

“This objectively does not suck.” My non-metal flatmate said these words after hearing the first few tracks of Aphasia. She’s actually wrong: not only does Stonus’ debut not suck, but it also rocks. It’s fun, it’s dynamic, it’s got great bass, and the songs build to satisfying, logical climaxes. Also, those riffs. My, my, Stonus brings the riffs, in all their fuzzed-out, shaggy glory. What the band members need to do now is take this well-established sound, and make it their own. They’re simply too talented to be aping bands from the ’90s. There’s also another problem with Aphasia: it’s poorly titled. “Aphasia” is a language deficit in the understanding or expression of speech. With this debut, Stonus have communicated crystal clear that they are a force to be watched very, very closely. No weed required.

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 9 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Electric Valley Records | Daredevil Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: March 6th, 2020

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