In 2010, the Opium Warlords‚Äô MySpace page claimed they sound like "a bad Bolivian Metal band practicing a riff.‚Äù Fair enough, but at times their ponderous, doom-laden, brooding, drone-metal shows signs of being more than just another fatberg clogging the sewers of musical culture. My introduction to the group was Live At Colonia Dignidad. Nembutal is a better produced recording, with more variation in speaking, singing, and what sounds like movie dialogue samples. The pest of cliched lyrics such as on ‚ÄúDestroyer of Filth,‚Äù is laughable and disappointing, because at other times the words are mysterious and intriguing, sung powerfully and with room to breathe. In those moments, allied with portentous guitar work and a contemplative tempo,¬†Nembutal is nicely out of sync with the flashy haste of modern life.
To be honest, my girlfriend went away for a few days, and I decided to spin a couple of albums overlooked in 2020. Alabaster dePlume‚Äôs To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 was a great listen, somewhere between the pastoral hum of Anthony Phillips and the clear, sparse jazz of Jeff Parker‚Äôs Suite For Max Brown. It has now been picked up by the same label as Angel Bat Dawid. No such liftoff as yet for Opium Warlords, although like tripping into a predictably cartoonish puddle of lumpy brown medieval sludge, they do make for a bracing contrast. The album starts and ends with a couple of monolithic tracks, but ‚ÄúThreshold of Your Womb‚Äù is as strangely hypnotic as being attacked by a tribe wielding gamelan gongs and a fuzz pedal. Two creepy pieces about women suffering a tragic fate are also good, but I‚Äôd have preferred if one or both had a male victim. If you call yourself Opium Warlords the subject matter is going to be unflinchingly dark, methinks, but the flashes of subtlety here - guitar tone, song pacing, running order- hint at greater promise. For example, the contrasting guitar work of ‚ÄúSolar Anus‚Äù is great. It is as if they are simultaneously not trying and trying too hard.
As detailed in his book 45, Bill Drummond (of Big in Japan, The KLF and more) once made up an entire Finnish underground scene for his own purposes, and recorded singles by these imaginary groups (The Daytonas, Gormenghast, The Blizzard King, Aurora Borealis, and The Fuckers). But he never came up with a name as good as Opium Warlords. The group is the solo project of Sami Albert ‚ÄúWitchfinder‚Äù Hynninen, who has added the witch-finding part to his title since I last looked. He has not changed his sound a great deal, though, and I am not changing my opinion too much. For the Opium Warlords to broaden their appeal, they need to continue to refine their sound and improve their lyrics. Maybe also listen to some Chrome. Yet, perhaps the "Bolivian metal" self-mocking and the daft mumbling and growling is a ruse; after all, it is said that the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was to make us believe he doesn't exist. And the name is marvelous; conjuring histories of deceit, greed, and war, the British in China, the French in Vietnam, the heroin labs of Marseille, the Golden Route, the release of Lucky Luciano and the role of the Mafia in assisting the Allies in opening a second front in WWII, Fidel Castro‚Äôs exploding cigar, Oliver North‚Äôs covert exploits in Colombia and Iran, CIA tolerance for Afghan opium production and export, and the alleged payment of $43 million to the Taliban government for crushing opium production, just months before the US invasion of Afghanistan with the support of the Afghan opium warlords.*
*Ed Felien: The Big Payoff