It could go down during a midnight desert ride, in a sweaty underground club, on a stadium stage, or riding shotgun on a stoned psychedelic space trip…
Bokassa soundtrack such instances and more with their patented breed of “stonerpunk” chased by shots of swaggering grooves, high-octane thrash, black metal malevolence, and even a little narcotic pop.
Coming together in 2013, the Trondheim, Norway trio—Jørn Kaarstad [vocals, guitar], Bård Linga [bass], and Olav Dowkes [drums]—have attracted the adoration of fans, peers, and critics alike. Following a triptych of EPs, their 2017 debut Divide & Conquer staked out a spot on Metal Hammer’s coveted “Best of the Year” list in addition to other 2017 roundups. Anointed by the gods, Metallica co-founder and drummer Lars Ulrich christened them “my favorite new band,” played their music on his Beats 1 show Its Electric, and invited them to open the European leg of the 2019 Worldwired Tour alongside Ghost. Not to mention, they tore up stages everywhere from popular Norwegian festivals a la Øyafestivalen, Pstereo-festivalen, and Stavern-festivalen to abandoned motorcycle clubs. Everything set the stage for their sophomore full-length, Crimson Riders.
A hook-laden Molotov cocktail of punk, hardcore, metal, and rock, its nine songs detail the exploits of crazed cults, power-tripping border patrol agents, beer-swilling anti-heroes, and a galaxy-hopping pirate who can’t die. This time around, everything hits harder.
“On our first record, we tried to downplay all of the hooks, because everybody in Norway was making this weird play for radio at the time and we didn’t want to sound like anyone else,” Jørn admits. “This time, the sound evolved naturally. It was more melodic. We have the fastest and hardest songs we’ve ever made and the most poppy. It’s really diverse. It can’t be pigeonholed.”
In the summer of 2018, they holed up in the basement Brygga Studio with co-producer Yngve Anderson [Blood Command] and spent a week cutting this next opus. In between “drinking beer and arguing,” they emerged “like vampires” with a battering ram of booze-soaked brilliance. The first single “Mouthbreathers, Inc.” gallops from visceral verses into an undeniable chant. Subtle saxophone creeps just behind the guitars, adding another dimension to the assault.
“It’s from the perspective of a dictator or a cult leader and what goes through his mind when the throne crumbles,” says Jørn. “The lyrical content of the song is person’s thoughts.”
With a wild “Whoo,” the guttural stomp of “Captain Cold One” sends an “ode to the antihero and that friend who has a devil on his shoulder and drinks and gets fucked up.” A Miami Vice-style saxophone pipes up in the background on “Vultures.” These flourishes amplify the metallic strike of groovy guitar riffs and emotionally charged lyrics.
“‘Vultures’ is actually about the American border patrol,” he goes on. “It’s very melodic, but there’s also a sadness to the words.”
Everything culminates on the bludgeoning galactic bliss of “Immortal Space Pirate 2.” Punctuated by blast beats, cello, and a hypnotic croon, it illuminates the expanse of the sonics. He elaborates, “It’s a space opera I had in my head about this immortal space pirate who roams around. We started it on Divide & Conquer. It’s cool to watch it continue.”
In the end, Bokassa’s sound remains as wild as it does timeless.
“We just really wanted to create hooky songs that people could sing along to,” the frontman leaves off. “We let the melodies shine out. It’s still all of the same crazy shit, but we go to the next level.