Jolly Cobra are a Norwegian band from Oslo formed in 2009 by Tom Daniel Reiersen (guitar, bass), Filip Watn (guitar), Fred Are Wolter (drums) and Steffen Johansen (vocals). The only changes in their current lineup are Tom Uglebakken (guitar) who replaced Watn in 2012, and the addition of Bjørn Viggo Andersen (bass) – both members of a Norwegian prog band called Gargamel. The original lineup began with the intention of creating stoner rock, with influences including the likes of Kyuss and Colour Haze. With new band members and their proggier influences being Rush and King Crimson, it is no surprise that their most recent release of their second album ‘Chromium Hawk’ in 2017 sees the beginning of a subtle shift from stoner rock to 70s influenced progressive rock. With this musical transition, Jolly Cobra have not abandoned their love and influence of stoner rock on their latest album, but but rather beginning to dip their feet into the world of prog – and it’s definitely working for them on this album!
Their debut release of ‘Tres Cobras’ in 2015 is everything a fan of hard blues based rock would want. A collection of energized headbangers suitable for a mosh pit in which the songs are heavily riff based; the distorted guitar sounds remind me of Black Sabbath’s sound – very fuzzy and growly which elevate these awesome riffs. ‘Let The Curtains Fall’ and ‘Kill The Headlights’ are great examples of this; driving, catchy and angry. Nevertheless, even their debut album began suggesting a possible shift in musical focus. ‘Albert Ross’ is more of an experimental piece that fits in more with the psychedelic/acid rock side to stoner rock. It features a very melodic guitar part over what I can only describe as a backdrop of chaos in a freeze frame. The distorted guitar that comes in delicate swells, coupled together with the menacing drone underneath completely juxtaposes the guitar part; it is light and playful with a major tonality. Such a fusion of moods really sparks the imagination which is why it fits in so well with the psychedelic side of stoner rock. Nevertheless, at the same time it lights the torch for the beginning of Jolly Cobra’s shift to the more progressive side of rock which is beginning to make appearances on their latest album.
Their 2017 release of ‘Chromium Hawk’ still carries the spirit of stoner rock but with shoots of prog beginning to sprout. Songs such as ‘Ain’t Got Nothing’ and ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ best represent the spirit of stoner rock that still lives in their music. Uglebakken kicks off ‘Ain’t Got Nothing’ straight away with a catchy guitar riff that swiftly leads into the verse. On this song especially, Johansen’s powerful voice is reminiscent of Ozzy Osbourne – which is a compliment! Many of the songs on this album, including this one, feature instrumental sections in which extended solos are played over previously used chord progressions. Uglebakken always keeps these solos tasteful so that they compliment the blues based soul of hard rock. I suppose this fits in more with the psychedelic side to prog rock and is perhaps the road that this band is heading down. The influence of space rock on this album highlights this point; throughout, the songs are peppered with spacey synth sounds, reverse delay effects and guitar effects. The start of ‘Greyhound Express’ features a lot of reverse delay on the guitar as well as a metallic synth sound that slides down an octave to kick the song off. ‘Chromium Hawk Part 1’ begins similarly with a synth based introduction that sounds very alien. The artwork for the album corresponds with the heavy space rock influence as the cover depicts a spaceship (which I’m assuming is the Chromium Hawk) being chased by a gigantic octopus on a green planet in space – crazy stuff! Despite this not being a full on progressive album, the song ‘Desert Storm’ shows the most promise. At almost 7 minutes, the song has a clearer sense of exploration compared to the other songs on the album; the middle section is a lengthier contrast to the main riff that occupies most of the song. The ending of the song brings back material from the middle section which has a very early Pink Floyd sound. There is a particular chord at the end that destabilises the tonality of the piece which is very obvious to hear before returning to the tonic chord – very fooling but also very cool! The most interesting piece for me is ‘Chromium Hawk Part 2’ which closes the album. It is the total opposite to its counterpart; a fully electronic piece that would easily fit on a Tangerine Dream album. It is a gorgeous piece of music, robotic in sound but increasing in beauty as layer after layer of sound is added to create a soundscape full of rich harmony. Not only a total contrast to its counterpart but also to the rest of the album – this is one of the moments where the album screams prog.
By the sounds of it, Jolly Cobra are aiming to create a more prog influenced sound on their next work which they have begun crafting. ‘Chromium Hawk’ is a solid album from a band still trying to figure out where they want their music to go. The beginnings of experimentation with synths, structures and musical ideas are engaging and promising to hear. They are definitely going in the right direction and hopefully their next album will go further in terms of experimentation as they can definitely make an effort to push the boundaries. I look forward to hearing the development of their progressive sound on their next offering.
You can find Jolly Cobra on social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube, as well as through their record label Kung Fu Ninja Records
Written by Dominic Sanderson