Bloodnut: St Ranga

StRanga-CVThe tongue in cheek title of Bloodnut’s sophomore album tells you a lot about the band’s irreverent nature. However, the New Zealand metal band’s conceptual focus places Bloodnut in a trickier position with album #2. Like Bloodnut’s debut, 2016’s Blues from the Red Sons, the similarly wittily titled St Ranga is a heavyweight sludge cacophony that sees Bloodnut continue their lyrical exploration of the lives of redheads and/or the red-bearded. And that combination of sludge, sly winks at the camera, and odes to the ginger experience isn’t the easiest sell.

That’s especially true on St Ranga, which is pitched as a darker album than Bloodnut’s debut. No question, the band’s new album is certainly a much heavier release than Blues from the Red Sons, both sonically and thematically, but St Ranga still risks being overlooked because of Bloodnut’s shtick.

I’m not trying to be a po-faced cynic here, because theatrics are obviously ubiquitous in rock ’n’ roll, and I’m all for ’em, but Bloodnut’s meme-friendly shenanigans do limit their appeal amongst fans of surlier sludge and doom.

Those fans, myself included, generally seek out bands that feature scuzzy fucked-up misanthropes howling about the sweet Dark Lord or their own shattered lives. But Bloodnut’s approach is often at odds with that aesthetic.

That’s not a criticism of the band, as such. There are plenty of varieties of sludge and stoner metal after all. However, humour is obviously incredibly subjective, and if you’re injecting it into the body of your work, like Bloodnut do, there are risks involved. Namely, is your band funny? Or is your band just a joke?

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Thankfully, Bloodnut are smart cookies. They’re aware that their modus operandi might create a few hurdles, for some. But that’s an even more pertinent issue on St Ranga. Because the album isn’t as comical as the giant Orangutan on its cover suggests. And Bloodnut clearly want to be taken more seriously on the release.

St Ranga was recorded in a single weekend by Elliot Lawless (see the amazing Greenfog), and the music therein is a lot coarser and more feral than Bloodnut’s debut. That means that even if the band’s lyrical themes aren’t your thing (and they’re not the hook for me) then St Ranga’s ten-tonne sludge might still resonate strongly in musical terms.

The album’s six tracks find Bloodnut recording as a four-piece, instead of their usual three-piece configuration, and that’s resulted in aggressive and hulking songs that sound like they could explode/implode at any moment. (Especially when the band lock in like Motörhead channeling High on Fire or Kyuss.)

The ragged, sawtoothed sonics and harsher downtuned guitars are the crucial attractors here. St Ranga hits hard and delivers gut-felt, rough-hewn music, making it a more visceral album than Bloodnut’s first full-length.

That said, a recent review of St Ranga noted that, with Beastwars out of the picture, “Bloodnut have the potential to take over the position of New Zealand’s premier sludge/stoner metal band”. But I don’t hear any evidence of that on the album.

Bloodnut don’t dangle catchy noise rock hooks like Beastwars. Nor, at this stage, are Bloodnut creative equals. It’s also worth pointing out there are other burly NZ sludge, doom and stoner bands making music that rivals Beastwars artistically. But none of that means that Bloodnut shouldn’t strive for similar crossover commercial success.

The band would need to broaden their narrative and musical horizons to appeal to a wider audience though. And frankly, that isn’t a bad idea, because Bloodnut could paint themselves into a conceptual corner all too soon.

Ultimately, St Ranga is a dirtier, punchier, and grimmer album than Bloodnut’s debut — and that’s what grabs me. To be perfectly honest, given the band’s lyrical scope, I wasn’t convinced they’d deliver another album that would hold my attention. But Bloodnut have proven me wrong.

When Bloodnut dial back the antics, and let their rawest and most instinctive music do the talking, they become a more interesting and far more impactful group. St Ranga is proof that it’s about time Bloodnut fully embraced that thundering fucked-up beast within. Album #3 could be an outright mind-melter and head-crusher — if the band ease off the shtick.