Colour Haze: Kings of Stoner/Psych Rock Mountain

Any fan of Jimi Hendrix is familar with the feeling that they could listen to his fluid guitar solos forever. Or at the very least, an entire album’s worth. The beautiful tones he coaxed from his guitar, and the deceptive simplicity that somehow evoked as much depth and intensity as a John Coltrane solo make them seem all too brief. Aside from some of his bluesy jams, Hendrix stuck to relatively concise song structures. While there’s no shortage of music influenced by Hendrix, nothing much really satisfied that craving. Not until the power trio Colour Haze emerged from Munich, Germany. Not that they are even remotely a Hendrix tribute band. Like other stoner rock groups that emerged in the 90s, Colour Haze started from the classic fuzzy Black Sabbath template and took some time to find their voice.

Colour Haze - Chopping Machine (David, 1995)Colour Haze - Seven (Selfburn, 1995)
Chopping Machine (David, 1995) & Seven (Selfburn, 1998)

Chopping Machine (1995) is quite different from the rest of their material, with a darker, more aggressive sound that bore some resemblance to Alice In Chains and Tool. Stefan Koglek said their debut and Seven (1998) will remain out of print because they have little to do with what the band became. While their first album does kind of suck at times, it’s interesting to hear their progression. Seven is actually enjoyably raucous, with Koglek’s vocals recalling both Mark Arm from Mudhoney and Dave Wyndorff of Monster Magnet. It’s also the first evidence that they spent some quality time with the Kyuss albums since their debut, as the prog and grunge styles shift over to make room for the monolithic influence of Josh Homme’s psychedelic desert rock. While Homme explored that particular flavor of stoner groove on the first Queens Of The Stone Age album in 1998, his band moved on to try out different hybrids of hard rock and catchy pop, leaving it up to Colour Haze to fully explore this world of sound that, like the desert, seems monochromatic and barren from a distance, but up close is a psychedelic panoply of colors, and host to a complex ecosystem of beasties.

Colour Haze - Periscope (Toaster/Elektrohasch, 1999)
Periscope (Toaster/Elektrohasch, 1999)

By their third album, Periscope (1999), everything clicked into place as they solidified their signature sound that would evolve with each album, but remain immediately recognizeable from just a few notes. With a new rhythm section of Philipp Rasthofer (bass) and Manfred Merwald (drums) in 1998, their permanent lineup was settled, and their game was raised to a new level of tight musicianship, gorgeous tones, fluidity and groove. The standout track, “Sun,” perfectly encapsulates the band’s talents to stunning effect, progressing from a mellow, introspective groove, turning up their Sunn amps with a a slinky lead guitar melody that sounds vaguely Middle Eastern, Koglek singing a couple verses in a mellow, lower register, before cranking up the intensity to a sustained, noisy crescendo of bellowed vocals and furious riffing. Each of their subsequent seven albums are better than the ones before. When was the last time anyone has seen such a sustained upward arc like that? *CoughBeatles*

There are many great stoner rock bands, and a few of them do certain things better than Colour Haze. Witchcraft and Graveyard write concise, memorable songs and have better singers, while Los Natas and My Sleeping Karma take more risks in experimenting with instruments and styles. Truckfighters, Dozer and a whole slew of others rock harder. Along with jaw-dropping musicianship and a signature style that evolves just enough to keep things interesting, what makes Colour Haze so addictive, and my favorite stoner rock band, is their sound. Most bands are conscienscious about getting getting a good sound, but none, at least in this genre, are as successful as Colour Haze. I haven’t had the pleasure to see them live yet, but they bring out enough equipment on stage for a five piece. They’ve obviously spent years finding and tweaking the right gear to hone their sound with results by all accounts in pure aural bliss. The delicously warm, fuzzy guitar tones are just perfect, balanced by the round bottom end of the bass and drums. Their sound has been represented ever more successfully on their last four albums. I’ve had many days where I’ve had the Colour Haze catalog on rotation in the house for several hours at a time. It’s like a soothing sound bath/massage that can blend into the background, but never gets old as their seductive hooks and solos regularly pull you back in.

Colour Haze - She Said (Elektrohasch, TBA, 2011)
She Said (Elektrohasch, Sep 10, 2011)

Aside from the 2009 live album, it’s been nearly three years since Colour Haze has put out new material, the longest gap since their first and second albums in 1995-98. An enticingly gorgeous piece of cover art has been floating about since last fall, promising a new release. In January, a press release announced the album would be titled She Said, and was originally slated for February 2011 release. However, there’s been some technical issues with the recording. Ever the perfectionists, they have delayed the release indefinitely while they figure out how to fix it or re-record. It is my hope that evoking the name of Colour Haze enough times will conjure them like Betelgeuse, and their tenth album will come out soon and be heard by a larger audience and they can get their butts over to North America for a tour. Colour Haze! Colour Haze! Colour Haze!

Colour Haze - Co2 (Homegrown/MonsterZero, 2000)
Co2 (Homegrown/MonsterZero, 2000)

Co2 (Homegrown/MonsterZero, 2000)

Their fourth album sees them loosening up with a more freewheeling approach possibly inspired in part by Norway’s Motorpsycho. Not that they’re improvising endless jams. They do have structure, with most of the songs in the four to seven minute range, and ending with the 11:04 title track, “Co2,” which gives a taste of the massively roaring crescendoes they achieve in live settings. They have also subtly shifted away from American influences, snaking some Eastern melodies into the mix, much like countrymen Can used to. “Get It On” is a simple as a haiku, but all the more effective as a singular, droning, but catchy riff. “Inside” is a nice example of their mastery of groove that surges like waves while retaining an enchanting melody that even sneaks in a Beatles reference.

Colour Haze - Ewige Blumenkraft (MonterZero, 2001)
Ewige Blumenkraft (MonsterZero, 2001)

Ewige Blumenkraft (MonsterZero, 2001)

Ewige Blumenkraft sees the band firing on all cylinders and on a hot streak, cranking out their fourth album of new material in four consecutive years. This time it’s more of a refinement of the progress they made on Co2 rather than a huge leap, starting with the simple, grungy rocker, “Freakshow.” “Almost Gone” is one of their poppiest songs, with a falsetto chorus that could easily fit in Queens Of The Stone Age repertoire. They warm up on “Smile 2” with some percussive fingerpicking, quickly gathering up steam for a bulldozing wall of riffs, and then bring it back to a simmer with live standard “Outside,” which keeps a languid tempo with a twisty Eastern sounding melody before picking up the tempo at the end. “Elektrohasch” is their longest song so far at 19:23. In a way, Colour Haze are becoming the ultimate jam band. Stefan, however, has no patience for aimless noodling and endless soloing. Every note feels like it has a pointed direction, having more in common with Sonic Youth than The Grateful Dead or Phish.

Colour Haze - Los Sounds de Krauts (Elektrohasch, 2003)
Los Sounds de Krauts (Elektrohasch, 2003)

Los Sounds de Krauts (Elektrohasch, 2003)

After taking a little extra time to prepare their followup to Ewige Blumenkraft, they came up with a monster double album, bringing their art to a whole new level. At a time when many bands peak with their debut album, Colour Haze have shown the rewards of patience and constant improvement. On their sixth album they’ve created something that is no longer in debt to influences like Black Sabbath, Can and Kyuss, achieving equal or greater footing. This is their Tago Mago or even their Zen Arcade. It’s difficult to compare something to those classics that have such an impact that are rooted in their time and context, but lately, I would choose Los Sounds de Krauts over those two albums just for listening pleasure, as there really aren’t any dud tracks at all. “I Won’t Stop” roars out the gate in a sustained 8:15 blaze of fury, an energy that will resurface often, particularly on the succinct two minute thrasher “Other Side.” “Roses” and “Zen” are a stunning one-two punch where they set up an irrisistable groove on the first number and then launch into some stunning, jazzy guitar runs. “Plazmakeks” takes a good five minutes of soft, quiet building before achieving a satisfyingly thick roar that tumbles for another several minutes. “2+7” is the poppiest song on the album, featuring a catchy hook and some of Stefan’s most appealing vocals yet. “Sundazed” has become a live standard as it does what they do so beautifully. “Weltraummantra” is their 18:00 kosmische track that free-floats for a few minutes before introducing some subtle, metronomic percussion before ebbing and flowing in and out of heaving riffing, and finally a vocal chorus. “Overriding” is nearly as long, and also a slow starter. This time Stefan’s vocals end up dueling with an organ solo, a pretty unique event in their discography. Another first is album closer “Schlaflied,” a true ballad, and a lovely one at that. Stunning.

Available at All That Is Heavy.com.

Colour Haze (Elektrohasch, 2004)
Colour Haze (Elektrohasch, 2004)

Colour Haze (Elektrohasch, 2004)

After producing a double album masterpiece six albums into their career, most reasonable bands would collapse in exhaustion and dutifully begin their long, slow (or quick) artistic decline. Instead, Colour Haze gets better. Who does that anymore? Recorded and mixed in analog in just a couple days, the album sounds incredible. The opening trio of “Mountain,” “Tao Nr. 43” and “Did Êl It” are some of their heaviest songs, with the latter employing some really tricky time signature acrobatics. The band are reaping the benefits of being together for over a decade. “Love” has some gorgeous quiet passages before it explodes and Stefan delivers some righteous MC5-style sermonizing. “Solitude” and “Flowers” features some fabulous acoustic guitar, making Colour Haze [XII] sort of their Led Zeppelin III. Oh, and “Peace, Brothers & Sisters” is their longest, most epic track yet at 22:11, destined to be the centerpiece of their live set for the next several years, with Hawkwind style space-rock synthesizer effects and mind blowing guitar solos. Another triumph nailed. Can they top it?

Available at All That Is Heavy.com.

Colour Haze - Tempel (Elektrohasch, 2006)
Tempel (Elektrohasch, 2006)

Tempel (Elektrohasch, 2006)

Yes. Yes they can. This was the first Colour Haze album I heard. I know, how could I have slept on this band all those years before? Just consider yourself lucky you’re finding out about them while they’re still active. After their last two masterpieces, it would be understandable if the band simply accepted their reign atop stoner-psych rock mountain and coasted from there on. Lucky for use the band tirelessly strive to push forward with their chops, their recording techniques, and evolving sound. This time the Hammond organ appears on a few tracks to nice effect, and new harmonics and delays are introduced for a psychedelic twist. Highlights include “Aquamaria,” the epic title track and live favorite, “Gold & Silver,” and the shimmering “Fire.” Available at All That Is Heavy.com.

Colour Haze - All (Elektrohasch, 2008)
All (Elektrohasch, 2008)

All (Elektrohasch, 2008)

After raving how each album tops the last, I’m risking hyperbole saying that All is their best so far. As great as the others are, it’s easily conceivable other people have older favorites. But their latest really does have it all. Their recording techniques are so perfected to the point where science turns to necromancy. Rather than clinically precise, the recordings breathe and flow more loosely than ever. There is more diversity in sound, and more psychedelic flourishes, such as the backward, layered guitar tracks on “Turns” that somehow sound beautifully uncluttered, letting the gorgeous melody shine through. “Stars” experiments with sitars and somehow avoids sounding too cliched and cheesy. For the most part, these tracks are more concise, with only the 14:49 title track exceeding ten minutes. “Silent” and “Moon” are songs they had been honing in live settings since 2005 and finally let them emerge fully formed and sparkling. Their most satisfying album at the top of a classic run. Available at All That Is Heavy.com.

Colour Haze - Burg Herzberg Festival (Herzberg Verlag, 2009)
Burg Herzberg Festival (Herzberg Verlag, 2009)

Burg Herzberg Festival (Herzberg Verlag, 2009)

Recorded at the Burg Herzberg Festival in July 2008, this is a welcome document of the band’s two-plus hour live set at their peak powers. To be honest, a live set can get a little gruelling when half the songs in the set surpass the ten minute mark. But in the comfort of home or at least sandwiched between a quality pair of headphones, the show can be absorbed at another level. Not that I wouldn’t contemplate dropping a grand to see them if they don’t schedule any U.S. dates before 2012.

Available at All That Is Heavy.com.

Colour Haze Sampler 1999-2009

January 2007 Interview
Stoner Rock Primer
The Best Heavy Rock Albums

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