March 23, 2024

Peak of Jin’Arrah is the debut album by Guenna. Hailing from the southernmost part of Sweden, this foursome offers a rather fine blend of fuzzy, progressive and heavy rock with vocal harmonies – wonderfully described by Nick Oliveri (formerly in QOTSA) on a night when Guenna opened up for his band Stöner in Malmö as follows: “Guenna sound like if YES played heavy stoner music, with all the harmonies and stuff. And I mean the good part of YES! It’s fucking rad!” – I have to say that made me laugh and drew me in to review the album!

Guenna are:
Oskar Johnsson (bass, vocals); Robert Mattsson (drums, vocals); Viktor Tjernell (guitars); Albin Gustafsson (guitars)

Fans of Tool, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Mastodon and the like may be interested in this album. Guenna are four guys who met when they studied music together in 2018/2019. After they all realized they missed cranking their amps and smashing the drumheads with raw power, Robert suggested starting a Stoner band… Although Robert was newly in love with Stoner rock, his and Albin’s top three list of bands both included AC/DC and Black Sabbath. Viktor and Oskar don’t have lists of “top bands”, but some of their mutual favourites include Rush, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The result of their creativity and widely mixed influences drew the great quote above whilst other simply suggest “Progressive Stoner Rock”. 

Only a couple of months after the band was formed in the fall of 2019, the debut EP Guenna was released in March 2020. Further material was released in a 2021 compilation of Swedish music podcast Metalpodden’s selection of “The Eight Best Unsigned Swedish Bands”.

The band comments: “The completion of this album has been a much bigger project than we had initially prepared for and it has been clear that we have not done anything of this magnitude before.  But FINALLY after many months of work, we now have a record that we are incredibly proud to be able to share. Though each member in the band has their own way of writing music and concepts for songs, we all have a shared affinity for adventure, sci-fi and the mythical unknown. That is something that heavily influences our creative process from beginning to end. Several songs has started as a concept before a single note has even been written. Ideas and musical motifs are usually written individually, presented in front of the band and then, as a group, we build, write, and arrange concepts, themes, and stories together.”

Eight tracks appear on this selection, opening with Bongsai, the track that got the band some airplay via the compilation mentioned above. It’s very tuneful, built around an insidious ear-worm of a guitar line that plays endlessly while the rest of the band work out around it. Straight-forward fuzz-rock / pacey Stoner rock, this probably encapsulates the band’s signature style. Halfway through, the Speedy Stoner is interrupted by a brief burst of staccato flute!

Dimension X comes in with a similar pace, mood and combination of twin-guitar Stoner chords, but then in comes the weirdly Yes-like multiple vocals – definitely mimicking Their Celestial Majesties in the phrasing and pitch – all very unexpected, especially from anyone under the age of….50 or so! Glastonbury Grove is different, much slower, melodiously bluesy, sort of hotel lobby music almost (in the nicest sense). Just over two minutes of gentle blues phrasing, with a darker vibe to its ending that neatly morphs into the next track Dark Descent. This one has a slow, moody cinematic feel to it, and features friend Elin Palsson on vocals -she certainly adds another element to to the band, as I said it’s sort of redolent of the Twin Peaks sound-track? The strongest track so far.

Ordric Major is nigh-on nine minutes of an extended workout around a hypnotically repeated guitar line, with sweetly young vocals harmonising above. If you could imagine the Beach Boys doing a chunk of Stoner psych-rock, that might capture it! It’s okay but it does go on a bit. Weedwacker is the first single released off the album – see the video below. It’s a fun, summertime sort of track – the sort of thing Blink 182 or The Offspring might have created if they were young Swedes… (watch the video, you’ll see what I’m getting at…). A good time being had by all!

Wizery is very much more of the same – and that’s my main issue with this album – frankly it does need more variation in style, there’s only so many variations on their signature sound before I become decidedly twitchy, wanting more….and the closer, Guenna’s Lullaby certainly achieves that – totally different, a gentle pastoral “minstrel-like” ballad that is again weirdly reminiscent of Yes – it even has a burst of flute in the middle section and a definitely Steve Howe-like acoustic guitar that forms the core. Short and sweet.

Guenna is now based in Malmö, geographically the best place in the country to connect with Europe. For the release of this album Guenna has teamed up with Swedish hard rock / fuzz rock label The Sign Records and it comes out on 19th April.

Not quite sure what to make of these guys – sometimes they sound like middle aged Celtic harpists, or the Beach Boys, most of the time it’s a teen Stoner sound that is pretty good, but needs a teens-weensy bit more variation over the length of the album. But “Good Luck to them” I say, it’ll be fascinating to see how they progress and develop.