Ukrainian prog-stoner trio Stoned Jesus held their first rehearsal since the Russian invasion in the middle of July 2022. It was a moment the band dubbed as “surreal” and justifiably so — the regular ritual of band practice was made impossible by the war. The members of Stoned Jesus — Igor Sydorenko (vocals/guitar), Sergii Sliusar (bass) and Dmytro Zinchenko (drums) — captured the moment for their social media channels. A broad smile of defiance and satisfaction can be seen on their faces. Regardless of the senseless havoc and destruction reaped upon their homeland, Stoned Jesus would play on. It was the resumption of a music career temporarily thwarted but not defeated by evil.
Since 2009, Stoned Jesus has served as one of Ukraine’s leading forces in heavy rock. Sydorenko, a veteran of the Ukrainian music scene, formed the band after stumbling upon some heavy and angry riffs that would become the song “Occult.” He fed off his Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin influences and was soon turned onto Electric Wizard and Sleep, two bands who mastered the art of bold, lurching heaviness, thus creating a sonic template to abide by.
The band was initially dubbed “Stoned Jesus from the Outer Space” but shortened to the much crisper Stoned Jesus. The name was trimmed down out of necessity — Sydorenko wanted to legitimize the band immediately. “I realized that this may cause some problems,” he told the Psychedelic Baby webzine in 2010. “Some people wouldn’t take our music seriously, then. I don’t mind jokes and having fun, but music is always the most serious thing for me.”
Two demos ensued before Stoned Jesus’s debut LP, 2010’s First Communion. Recorded in two hours, First Communion was a promising offering that dove headlong into the world of heavy stoner rock, with three songs going over the ten-minute mark for hypnotic effect. The album eventually saw a proper reissue in 2020, introducing it to a new group of fans. Seven Thunders Roar followed in 2012 and included “I’m the Mountain,” a 16-minute epic jam that has since become a live staple. The album also introduced a bevy of acoustic guitar and softer vocal approaches from Sydorenko.
The Harvest came next in 2015, deftly transitioning Stoned Jesus from sludge into new terrain, including alternative and progressive rock. This is a credit to Sydorenko’s evolving songwriting style and desire to never allow Stoned Jesus to repeat itself. “It works brilliantly for the likes of Motörhead or AC/DC, but we’re not that legendary yet,” he told Outlaws of the Sun webzine in 2015. “So, let’s experiment, shall we? Let’s play with the genres, the sound, the song structures, the melodies, the timings — yes, my favorite trick!”
Pilgrim came next in 2018, which until now, has been the band’s career-defining moment. Stoned Jesus’s original plans were to record its follow-up in 2020. That, of course, was sidelined by the pandemic. The band then entered Spivaki Records in Kharkiv in July 2021 to record nine songs at 75 minutes. Two-thirds of the material was mixed and mastered before the invasion, leaving the final run-time of six songs at 43 minutes.
The result is Father Light, the band’s first for Season of Mist. The album catches Stoned Jesus in full bloom. The foundational elements of Stoned Jesus’s sound remain (fuzzed-out rock, driving bass lines and maximum groove) and are once again augmented by the combination of Sydorenko’s gentle clean vocals and hook-laden chorus choices, along with an array of ornamental guitar melodies. And, in true Stoned Jesus fashion, the journey is often the reward: The cuts on Father Light expand and shift — all the while, the band’s trademark heaviness serves as the guide.
Stoned Jesus subsequently resumed live activity in July 2022 with European festival dates and runs with countrymen (and labelmates) Somali Yacht Club and then VOVK. The shows provided the band the opportunity to air two of the songs that would end up on Father Light: “Con” and “Porcelain.” Moreover, the dates were an outlet for the band to connect with waiting audiences who supported their music and cause of raising money to help those impacted by the war.
The idea that music is the ultimate escape has never rung truer in light of what happened to Ukraine in 2022. The prospect of brighter days lies ahead, making the Father Light album title even more appropriate.
As 2022 drew to a close, the members of Stoned Jesus posted their final message for the year, epitomizing their resilience and optimism:
All the missiles in the world can’t destroy freedom. Nothing will stop truth.