Stoner rock/stoner metal is not for everyone. Most of the time, it’s not for me. I don’t smoke weed, for one thing. So the music’s essential qualities — slow to mid-paced fuzz riffs, throbbing beats, lyrics mostly about subjects of interest to stoned people when they’re not simply about smoking weed — aren’t my favorites. But periodically, bands that fit under the stoner umbrella will catch my ear. I love Monster Magnet’s 1990s albums, especially Superjudge and Dopes to Infinity; I liked the first couple of Electric Wizard albums, until the limits of their imagination became clear; I like Fu Manchu; and the instrumental stoner jam trio Earthless are one of my favorite bands ever. (For the record, I don’t count High On Fire — who I love — as a stoner band. Sleep are a stoner band, and I don’t like them, but High On Fire are somewhere between Motörhead and Mastodon: pure metal warriors bestriding the wasteland.)

France’s Slift are definitely a stoner band, but they’re way too smart to sing about weed. (Yes, they sing in English.) They’re a trio from Toulouse — brothers Jean and Rémi Fossat (guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Canek Flores — who’ve released two albums, one EP and a couple of singles since 2017, and their music is a blend of ultra-heavy garage rock, retro space rock, and hard-edged psychedelia. At its best, it’s absolutely bludgeoning, but it’s also subtle and progressive — they take you on a journey.

Their first two releases, 2017’s Space is the Key and 2018’s La Planète Inexplorée, gave a good indication of what they could do. Sometimes the riffs were so blown-out you’d think they were High Rise or Mainliner or some other 1990s Japanese act, but then they’d get take it down a notch and throw in some subtle keyboards, while Flores kept the beat at a perfect, precise gallop, and they would sound like a New Wave band covering Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” or something.

Their masterpiece to date, though, is 2020’s Ummon. The album tells you what you’re getting into from your first glimpse of its amazing gatefold cover (above) by French comic artist Philippe “Caza” Cazaumayou, but you’re not really prepared for just how brain-blasting it is. The first two tracks, “Ummon” and “It’s Coming…”, are like being launched down a highway on some kind of Wile E. Coyote rocket sled and then suddenly finding yourself airborne, even breaking out of Earth’s atmosphere, as the unstoppably mighty riffs (and the swirling, disorienting drones underpinning them) and the thunderous beat all combine into a perfect storm of space-rockin’ cosmic fury. And the album’s energy never flags. Even on slower, driftier songs like “Citadel on a Satellite,” an absolute pile-driver of a riff will come slamming down on you like a walk-in freezer dropped off a roof, and then the band will be off, galloping toward the horizon again. These guys are set on maximum destruction all the time. Lemmy once told me that Hawkwind would lock the doors to venues where they played, and hit the already acid-damaged audience with so much raw volume and such an intense light show that they would basically melt into a puddle of flesh, gibbering in terror. I can easily imagine the Slift guys hearing that and saying, “Yep, sounds like a plan.”

Last year, Slift put out two releases, both of which are great. Levitation Sessions is a 70-minute live set filmed  inside the ultra-high voltage electron microscope at the National Institute of Applied Sciences’s CEMES Laboratory in their hometown of Toulouse. I mean, that’s fucking genius. You can watch it above, and buy the audio on Bandcamp. The songs mostly come from Ummon (except for “Heavy Road” from La Planète Inexplorée), but they’re often radically lengthened — “Citadel on a Satellite” goes from 10 minutes to 15, and “Lions, Tigers and Bears” stretches from 13 minutes to 18. They also released a single, “Unseen”/“The Real Unseen,” via Sub Pop. The two tracks are halves of a single piece left over from the Ummon sessions. So think of them as bonus tracks if you like, but necessary ones.

Slift are one of the truly great heavy bands of the last half dozen years. Ummon and Levitation Sessions are masterpieces, up there with Hawkwind’s Doremi Fasol Latido and Space Ritual. Strap your helmet on and climb aboard their rocket.

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