An Invisible Empire

An Invisible Empire

Monster Magnet Side Project Comes to Rock Blind Bob’s

By Gary Spencer

Ahhhh … the ‘90s.  A decade of popular music that holds a dear place in the hearts of many music lovers, partially due to the underground rock revolution led by Nirvana that changed the perceptions of what types of music could be considered mainstream.  But in a more simplistic way, what made the music of the ‘90s so special was the seemingly endless string of rock bands that rose to popularity and made a lasting sonic impact upon a generation of musicians and fans alike.

Many 90’s music fans consider the New Jersey-based psych-stoner rock combo Monster Magnet to be a prime example of a band that came out of nowhere and steadily built a strong cult following before finally making the billboard charts in 1998 with their surprise hit album Powertrip, which contained the alt-rock radio hit “Space Lord”.  By then the band had honed its reputation for fuzzy, grooved-out space rock that mingled with old school heavy metal laden alongside not-so-thinly veiled drug references, perfect for an evening of bong hits and mind-bending recreational psychedelic substances.

A short time afterward, bassist Jim Baglino and drummer Bob Pantella joined Monster Magnet.  After years of providing support to Monster Magnet’s musical mastermind Dave Wyndorf, the duo developed an itch to express their own musical ideas and were looking for an outlet in which they could do so.   This notion eventually manifested itself in the creation of a side project that they later called Riotgod.

“Riotgod pretty much started in 2007 but Jim and I had talked about doing a project together since about 2005,” drummer Bob Pantella elaborates. “We had talked about it off and on but didn’t have a lot of time at that point. There wasn’t really a ‘need’ to do something beside Monster Magnet, it was more of a want … just something refreshing for us both. So when Magnet had taken a little break in 2007, the time seemed to be right. [Vocalist] Mark Sunshine and [Guitarist] Garrett Sweeny, (both of which I have worked with before in the past) came into the picture around that time. Things seemed to come together fairly fast. We had written and recorded 4 songs in about a month before we actually played live together.”

In August 2010, Riotgod unleashed its debut eponymously titled album upon the musical world to very favorable reviews from both longtime Monster Magnet fans and those not familiar with Pantella and Company’s other more famous musical outfit.  The band toured when they had time off from Magnet and continued to write new material.  This newer material has manifested itself in the form of Riotgod’s sophomore LP, Invisible Empire.  The quartet’s newest platter, due for release on January 31, 2012, will feel somewhat familiar to knowledgeable fans of Monster Magnet, yet is clearly a musical entity of its own accord.  The songs within Invisible Empire definitely borrow from the early ‘70s heavy metal palette of fuzzy bass and downtuned guitars often associated with Monster Magnet’s back catalog.  However, Riotgod mostly downplays the drug-influenced, psychedelic elements of Monster Magnet’s music and instead chooses to go for a more straight-ahead, ‘70s boogie-worthy hard rock and roll attack mixed with grungy aesthetics of classic ‘90s alternative rock.  An informed listener will note references to and the influence of numerous bands at different points throughout Invisible Empire, including to but not limited to Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Alice in Chains.  However, this reviewer could also see Riotgod appealing to fans of contemporary stoner metal rock acts such as Black Tusk, High on Fire and Red Fang as well.

“I think our intentions were to just write a good record, nothing more nothing less”, comments Pantella.  “We definitely were not trying to re-invent the wheel. Our influences cover a lot of areas but I think we kinda meet in the middle and that’s what comes out.  I think a lot more focus was put into this record than the first one, basically because we had already gone through it once and kinda knew where time and energy were wasted.”

And it appears that the Riotgod concert experience is somewhat of a different animal than what one may get by just merely listening to the records.  “Live, we have some visual projections etc.,” Pantella explains.  “I think live we have a shit load of energy, we definitely have a lot of fun on stage.”

After Riotgod’s current U.S. tour, the group will go overseas for nearly a month of dates in Europe, covering countries including Holland, Sweden, Poland and beyond.  As for the future of Riotgod, drummer Bob Pantella tends to keep the outlook simplistic.  “Make another record … maybe two maybe three or more”, Pantella says.  “I think we are just looking at what’s in front of us … things always change, so right now we have a tour coming up and that’s what we are focused on.  I think we are just doing our thing and having fun doing it. I think it’s all about the process … Time will tell.”

Riotgod performs at Blind Bobs, located at 430 E. Fifth Street in downtown Dayton.  Close the Hatch and Swarm are also on the bill.  Show begins at 9PM.  Please call 937-938-6405 or visit www.blindbobs.com for more information. 

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at Gary Spencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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