With what must surely be the best band name in the history of the cosmos, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard have come from almost complete obscurity in the past couple of years to be hailed as one of the most exciting and interesting bands in the United Kingdom’s heavy music scene today. Now heading to Newcastle (courtesy of Inverted Grim-Mill) for their own headlining show while on a UK tour with fellow metal juggernauts OHHMS, I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes with their lead singer and bassist Jessica Ball to talk about life in this most remarkably monikered of acts.
As a concept, it doesn’t really seem as if it should work: a Welsh doom metal band with a South African lead singer and a name that doesn’t really roll off the tongue. Scene aficionados will get it straight away, but non-believers might not automatically understand the joke that it’s the most outrageously stereotypical stoner rock band name they could think of. Rest assured though, however ridiculous you find the name, the band think it’s even sillier – and they are very much in on the joke.
As a statement, their first album Noeth Ac Anoeth couldn’t have been stronger. Fifty minutes long, consisting of just three songs with the epic Nachthexen (German for Night Witches, and a nickname for female Soviet fighter pilots in the Second World War) weighing in at a wonderful half hour on its own, and not a second going to waste. Most peoples’ commute into work could be sound tracked perfectly with it – although perhaps not on a Monday.
Not resting on their laurels, Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard’s latest record Y Proffwyd Dwyll (Welsh for The False Prophet) doesn’t relent on the force, but does bring in a lot of unexpected elements including subtle electronics, violins and vocal lines that are – hell forbid – a little more mainstream than you’d expect. For want of a better word, it’s almost poppy (by doom metal standards at least.) Take the mighty title track for example, in which Ball serenely soars over the band’s huge overdriven mountains of doom, all stitched together with expertly placed synths and strings. Rising and falling like a symphony over its ten minutes running time, it’s an example of why the band have more than outgrown their name.
The accessibility of the record, despite its crushingly heavy instrumentation, is something lead singer and bassist Jessica touches on: “Yeah, well we were interested in putting the two things together really. It’s made it more accessible to other people in itself and we weren’t entirely sure how it would be received but it seems to have gone down alright!” Certainly, it’s true to say that even though down-tuned riffs that are sludgier than swimming through quicksand while wearing lead boots might be a turnoff for many, Bell’s celestial, ray of light vocals makes the music a lot more palatable than you might think.
Everyone’s just trying to get heavier and heavier, aren’t they? But we do try and be as heavy as possible!
The world of metal can be weirdly conservative, and all too often it seems that everything has already been done before. Attempts in the early noughties to shoehorn other aggressive genres such as drum n bass and techno into the mix had limited success, but more recently acts like Deafheaven and Chelsea Wolfe have shown that bringing diverse elements such as shoegaze and neo-folk can civilise the most brutal of bands. It’s something Jessica has noticed, but her and her band remain resolute over their sound: “Everyone’s just trying to get heavier and heavier, aren’t they? But we do try and be as heavy as possible!”
Coming from South Africa originally, she only moved to the UK five years ago and eventually found her way to the dark side: “As a teenager, I was into heavy music like most teenagers are but I started wandering through other genres like electronic and acoustic singer/songwriter material. I did a few musical things in South Africa so when I came here I just carried on. I was in a couple of other bands, but this is the heaviest one yet.” Having an open mind to music of different types has obviously helped the newer sound but Jessica’s adamant: “I just really like riffs basically. It all rotates around that.”
2017 is likely to be a big year for the band with a fairly hectic schedule but one that has some large UK festival gaps in among it: “It’s a very exciting year for us with plenty of touring for the album: there’s a European tour in June and July, Desert Fest in London in April, Into the Void in Holland in October and Red Smoke in Poland. And we get to see lots of new places.” These new experiences do, in Jessica’s case at least, include our own fair North-East: “I’ve never been to Newcastle!”, she notes excitedly.
When Y Proffwyd Dwyll emerged late last year, many publications rated it as one of the more accomplished heavy releases of recent years, and there’s very little to have come along since that’s made this writer want to take it off the turntable. So, while treating your other half to an evening of extreme music might not be the obvious choice when planning a romantic treat for Valentine’s Day, going to see Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard in the wonderful Cluny 2 might just have you falling in love all over again.