Harsh Toke – Light Up and Live

Harsh Toke cover
By Matt Hinch

Shut up. Just shut up. You had me at Harsh Toke.

Then again with Light Up and Live. Then again with the cover art. Then again with spaced-out, psychedelic acid rock. It’s the perfect storm of elements for a stoner’s wet dream.

Harsh Toke call San Diego home and those responsible for all the trippin’ are guitarist (and pro skater) Justin “Figgy” Figueroa, bassist Richie Belton, drummer Austin “Buya” Ayub and keyboardist Gabe Messer. Their latest creation takes nearly 40 minutes to burn through its four tracks but there isn’t a moment wasted. Every last second is soaked in enough resin to knock you into next week.

The rhythm section is tight as a noose, and they need to be as Figgy plays all kinds of loose. Squealing and tripped-out solos and free-wheeling six-string insanity dominate as Belton and Buya lock down grooves and rhythms. Messer fleshes out the desert rock in both subtle and overt ways.

Hammond organs are all over opener “Rest in Prince” with its retro vibe and punchy rock ‘n’ rollin’ demeanour. At a short four minutes it’s just a preview of the extended jams to follow, each with its own flavour. “Weight of the Sun” features droning background noise, hypnotic tribal percussion and some crazy-ass flute. Guitars fall into the trance inducing drum patterns from space. The intensity ebbs and flows like cloud passing across the blazing sun. Keys filter in as Figgy shreds on a theme before the hallucination fades with the setting sun.

The title track is a bass heavy, slo-burning groover choking on clouds of smoke drifting across the desert. That rumbling bass drives the engine of creativity that are the guitars, painting an expressionist landscape of colour and sound on the canvass of the mind. (I’m totally sober writing this by the way.) Eyelids get heavy and heads are bobbing leading into closer “Plug In To the Moon”. It’s a slo-motion tornado of sound full of shredded guitar wankery completely devoid of pretension. Just pure jamming emotion and plenty of saxophone.

Contrary to fellow San Diego-ites, Diego-ins, -uns, -ons, San Diegans Earthless, who eschew the use of narcotics to craft their work, I don’t think you can say the same about Harsh Toke for obvious reasons. So don’t be afraid to Light Up and Live! See you on the flip side, man.

(Tee Pee)

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.