‘Such Hawks Such Hounds’
Stoner Rock. Could there ever be a more vague term to describe a genre? Show me a stoner that doesn’t listen to music and I’ll show you anything you want! But let’s ignore this problem of language for the moment and focus on the task at hand, John Srebalus’ 2008 documentary ‘Such Hawks Such Hounds’.
At the time of writing this review it has been months since I watched the film so my facts and references will be loose but my impression has been thoroughly digested. Reminded by stumbling across a trailer on YouTube, I felt inclined to write it up.
I dislike writers who disguise a negative review by withholding criticisms to the final paragraph so I will get mine out of the way at the outset and concentrate on the positives, of which there are plenty. This film is a little too long for its own good. The extended scenes of live performances are excellent for the opportunity to see each band doing their own unique thing but by the ¾ way mark of the film this begins to get tedious. I can think of two positives to this however; if you love all the music then of course you will be happy to listen to it all if the mood strikes. The second is, I suspect, a certain harking back to music documentaries of the 60’s and 70’s. Films such as the iconic Woodstock film with their ‘forget commentary, we want music, music and more music!’ attitude.
There is a particular humility to this film that I think is very admirable. So many films that focus on certain genres of music try far too hard to instil seriousness and credibility into the genre and the vibe of the film. Such Hawks Such Hounds confronts the not-so-cool aspects of its chosen genre head on, chief among them being the troublesome ‘Stoner’ label. Asked in interviews the majority of artists grudgingly accepted the label but do not seem to hold it in high regard. And why would they really? It seems a shame to reduce a whole genre to a stoned past-time. But then again, show me ANY musical tradition that can’t be reduced to that using crafty rhetoric!
Such a myriad of artists are interviewed in the course of this film that almost every popular opinion is covered, without the cheesiness that films such as ‘Heavy Metal a Head Banger’s Journey’ tend towards (don’t get me wrong here, that was an OK film). Perhaps a little too much reverence for trippy experiences in the woods late at night but at least there are no anthropologists saying ‘it’s a pathway to God!’ The film opens with Matt Pike, of Sleep and High on Fire fame, giving a now infamous definition of heavy, which I will encourage you to check out for yourself since I think about 50% will agree and the other 50% will laugh but few if any will say they really disagree.
High on Fire, Sleep, OM, Dead Meadows, Goatsnake, Sunn 0))), Wino, Scott Reeder and more are represented here excellently by both themselves and the film makers. And if there is one important thing that this film conveys it is the seemingly timeless nature of stoner rock. Thrash Metal, one can easily and quite correctly say is associated with San Francisco during the early to mid 1980’s. Similarly, one could tie Grunge (a term I’m not totally comfortable using, stay tuned to future articles to find out why) to Seattle in the late 80’s and early 90’s, whereas Stoner as we know it today has remained much the same since the late 60’s and early 70’s. I can’t help but feel that Kyuss, for example, would have been a welcome support act on an early Black Sabbath tour. OM probably would be cult legends if they had been doing exactly what they do now in the hippie environment. Just imagine how mind-blowing that relentlessly intense bass sound would have been to an audience that thought Jefferson Airplane was a trip! Yet in that period of time of 40 odd years, stoner has still expanded to encompass many other sounds, sights and experiences. It has never been afraid to absorb outside influences, a problem which strikes all musicians and probably halts creative progress more than anything else. Nothing was going to stop Matt Pike exploring his Slayer influences, nor was King Buzzo of The Melvins going to ignore the greater love he held for Black Flag rather than Black Sabbath.
All things considered, I would recommend this film to anyone interested in the music and even more so to those folks, like myself, who so truly need the encouragement it offers: YES, the scene DOES exist, YES there are people who feel and share the love and YES you can be part of it!
And when in doubt, DOOM it out!
For Bornagainnihilist 2011
Edward Gerard Brophy