Such Hawks Such Hounds
In the overflowing racks of DVDs at your local record store, the subject of stoner rock has long been neglected. The void has now been filled, however, with the release of Such Hawks Such Hounds. The film is the culmination of three years work by John Srebalus, a first-time director who seeks to expose one hard rock’s many subgenres. While any documentary on stoner rock is very welcome, Srebalus has unfortunately delivered a very disjointed and confusing result.
Such Hawks Such Hounds starts off with a timeline beginning with Sabbath, plus a nice piece on Pentagram; the American band is one of those underground influences that get sadly overlooked. Then the timeline becomes almost inconsequential, as there’s a piece on Earthless, a band who was not born when Pentagram was formed. This is nothing against that band, by the way, as their live piece is outstanding, not to mention bassist Mario Rubalcaba’s explanation of the “cosmic nod.”
The film continues in the same vein, with a look back and then a piece on a modern band. While that may be acceptable, what isn’t is some of the bands included. There is Fatso Jetson, a blues band complete with a harmonica-playing frontman. The fact that they refer to themselves as a blues band should have been Clue Number One for the director. When guitarist Mario Lalli says, “a clean tremolo can sound so evil that it makes Black Sabbath sound like Peggy Lee,” however, that should’ve been the proverbial final straw. They seem to be included because they were signed to SST Records.
Srebalus seems to play up the alt-rock and punk influence more than it really should be. Case in point is the inclusion of über-producer Jack Endino and Mudhoney’s Mark Arm. Their inclusion wouldn’t have been so bad, but it comes at the expense of Wino, generally regarded as the grandfather of stoner rock — although after watching this film, you wouldn’t get that impression. It’s sickening that the director was able to land him and then to not fully expand on his influence. Instead, he chooses to spend more time of Arik Roper and others on “the art of stoner rock.” Maddening.
That said, there are several good parts to Such Hawks. For one, the classic Sleep album, Jerusalem, is justly given its due. The 58-minute, one-song album is covered in detail, from the long and tiring recording to its mishandling by the record label, London Records. The label was so confused on what to do, partly because the band had broken up by the time it was released. The groups that rose from Sleep’s ashes, OM and High on Fire, are both featured extensively.
One of the more interesting things Srebalus does is to touch on the pot influence of stoner rock. What’s curious is how many bands apparently didn’t like the tag, because they thought it gave them an unfair stigma. Also mentioned is how all the bands know they will never “make it” and the sacrifices that they make to keep playing.
Subjects aside, the film is not well-produced. It feels disjointed for the most part, and the timeline graphic used never seems to matter. There are many points brought up — like how important Man’s Ruin Records was — that are never followed up on or further explained. My biggest complaint, though, is that Srebalus never does a complete job of explaining what “stoner rock” is. There are some cursory attempts at the beginning of the film, but they’re never developed. I’ve read Wino’s explanation, that stoner rock is the type of music that makes you feel like you are stoned, and to me that’s the perfect genre definition. Of course, if Wino was given more time, we might have heard that in the film, but no such luck.