There’s something very satisfying in the earthy, deep and reverberating bass lines of stoner rock. They go straight to your guts and remind you of your most basic feelings and instincts. I liked that sound when it first appeared and I still do. However, I’m not really a big stoner rock fan in general. Making sophisticated stoner rock is tricky. If the earthiness is overdone, the music sounds just plain dumb. Add some clichéd lyrics to that sound, and your stoner rock project is bound to end up being mediocre. And sadly, that’s the level where most stoner rock bands are stuck.

Fortunately, nothing of the above applies to Kings Destroy and their new album Fantasma Nera. The five-piece from Brooklyn, NYC, with hardcore roots and around since 2010, prove that you can take the honest earthiness of stoner rock, merge it with more complex sounds and arrive at something good. On Fantasma Nera, they seamlessly and effortlessly combine stoner rock and grunge, with a bit of psychedelia, seventies rock and some Iron Maiden. And while they are not the first band to give this mixture a try, they are doing a much better job than most others. Their music is earthy and melodic; heavy but not sluggish. Their lyrics are good, some bits are even very good. The vocals are clean, but not prominent. This is clearly a joint effort, without ego trips. At least you can’t hear any. All of that, plus the honesty with which everything is delivered, makes this project rise far above the level of mediocrity.

“Fantasma nera” is Italian for black ghost. The title track is lyrically and subject-wise the best and most ambitious track on the album and to some degree a declaration of what the band is up to. It deals with “the darkest parts of human nature and the struggle to accept and embrace it,” as the band has stated. The song’s chorus suggests that you need to face these darkest parts in order to know yourself: “Wherever it is you think I am is where you’ll find yourself / Whenever you get close to me is when you’ll know yourself.”

While the musical influences listed above are audible throughout the album and the basics don’t change, the album’s songs are very varied regarding tempo, song structures and mood. Barbarossa, for example, the album’s third track, recounting a soldier’s last thoughts on the battlefield, starts out like a song form a completely different band, in fact, in the beginning, it sounds like a song from Bob Mould’s Sugar. It is faster and more melodic than the rest of the tracks, but the characteristic bass line prevents it from becoming soapy. It is thus a good example of skilful song writing.

All in all, I find Fantasma Nera to be a high-quality, honest album featuring cross-genre music and lyrics with intriguing subjects and themes. You see, that’s why I like music made by people around middle age. They’ve dealt with their fair share of nastiness in life, and if they’ve learned something, they’re past the BS and past doing something solely for the sake of appearances. They’re aiming for insight. And that’s what you are getting here: a glimpse into someone else’s insights about life wrapped in good music. You can’t really ask for much more than that.

(8/10 Slavica)