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For Earth Below 

Nebula: Synthetic dreams of metal machines

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
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’Twas the great rock philosopher Ted Nugent who once said that the truly heavy in rock was akin to dragging one‘s balls along the concrete. And right he was. The basis of all the low-down, bass-grounded, quarter- to half-note-delayed kick-and-snare sludge the world has known and loved since the dawn of Blue Cheer, Cream and Sabbath (and Nugent’s Amboy Dukes in their less poppy moments) is an ominous, bluesy, minor-key rumble, the sound of ass-down-to-the-ground, testes-in-the-mud slog. Music not to bang the skull to, but to nod and roll the noggin to in blissful, slow-riding ecstasy.

The ranks of the newly empowered rockers who choose this muddy path in our decidedly unheavy day and age have been stickered with the label ”stoner rock.“ This is a strange misnomer that implies music with no forward motion and a kind of passivity, a tag that‘d surely raise the blood pressure of any band unfortunate enough to have it strung ’round their necks like a lead albatross.

It‘s a quandary that raises the ire of Eddie Glass, the voice and front man of the power trio Nebula. Risen out of the ever-shifting lineup of one of the ’90s‘ great unrecognized rocking machines, Fu Manchu, in 1997, Nebula stand salient upon the dying embers of the dark boogie. Sure, they aren’t the only troops in the army -- Queens of the Stone Age adopt a similar stance with their post-Kyuss, desert-influenced undertow, New Jersey‘s Monster Magnet do a more image-conscious hippie take in their way, and Boston’s Roadsaw amp up the SabAlice in Chains groove into bar-band terrain.

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But Nebula tap into a deeper shade of the troubled soul than any of these groups; the unease in Glass‘ tortured tenor is too real to ignore or write off. It’s the sound of his quaver, plus his treble-free guitar styling, that brings Nebula all the way back to the roots of this so-called movement, past the exaggeratedly hammerheaded mode of the Melvins or the studied affectations of Mudhoney. The latter two called it ”grunge“ when it wasn‘t that grungy, and now it’s ”stoner“ when it has none of the comfort that term implies.

No, Glass doesn‘t like the ”stoner“ description in the least. Sitting in the living room of his modest Silver Lake guest house, which is adorned with classic posters for Love and 13th Floor Elevators gigs of 35 years past, the maestro shakes his greasy mane when asked about the handle applied to himself and his two bandmates, bassist Mark Abshire and drummer Ruben Romano.

”It’s a convenient thing the press has created so that it can be identified,“ says Glass. ”Like, ‘Wow, kids, here’s Stoner Rock,‘ like, here’s how a stoner rock band would dress or sound. None of the bands they call stoner rock call themselves that. It‘s an outside thing.“

Having been on the road with Fu Manchu since the early ’90s (one tour with the nouveau-rock-rap ensemble the Deftones was particularly memorable for the stunned reaction the Manchus got while opening; Glass says it was ”all guys in Korn T-shirts looking at us with this ‘What the fuck’ thing all over their faces“) and having built his rep from the ground up sans much radio or TV or press support, Glass has earned the right to question Nebula‘s designated genre title. True, on the title track of their only full-lengther, To the Center (Sub Pop), the drums enter with that drizzly cymbal sound right off Robin Trower’s ”Day of the Eagle,“ but the speed and intensity of the tune demolish the mood as soon as the band and Glass kick in.

”It‘s like, the writers who’ve covered us liken us to what we really aren‘t, like the kind of thing you’d have on some old Camaro‘s 8-track, like Grand Funk,“ says Glass. ”Yeah, I like that kind of music, but generally we’re from a more obscure place, like the Stooges.“

He isn‘t kidding. From the revved-up ”Come Down“’s pistol-shot intro lick and ensuing Detroit-friendly, bass-driven scream-feast all the way to a genuine Iggy cover, the venerable ”I Need Somebody“ (featuring the groans of fellow traveler Mark Arm as stand-in Pop), Nebula have that dingy industrial vibe down to their grimy nails. But they ain‘t no one-trick pony -- the electric piano that colors the utterly great ”So Low“ would never come from a mere tribute band, like so many latter-day sludgemeisters are; Nebula toss any working ingredient into the stew. Nebula also dip into a more sedate haven of muted acoustics, such as the jangling ”Fields of Psilocybin,“ but whenever they start to get stuck in the lapidary world of zero movement, Romero socks his cowbell like Corky Laing’s grandson and they‘re off and running again.

Nebula live and breathe the road, having done eight weeks in Europe with the ubiquitous Roadsaw as opener, as well as endless quests up and down the West Coast and across the States. They’ve done it all without benefit of major-label assistance, and God bless him, when the subject of the band‘s indie status is raised, Glass shrugs it off without a second thought. ”We are where we’re at,“ he says, and that seems to close the book on a subject near and dear to every L.A. band‘s heart. But not the heart of Glass -- he doesn’t seem to give a fuck.

With the current slate of rock bands more or less comprising groups of deracinated semi-rap fansaccountants in shorts, baseball caps and goatees all angling for their own record labels, it‘s a pleasure to come across an aggregation of gents sated with the simple pleasures of finding a groove and sailing on it till it runs out and it’s time for another. Such was the case at a recent Nebula date at the Troub. Following the British art damage of the Heads (picture the Fall minus catchy vamping or the Jesus and Mary Chain sans melody) and High on Fire (total sledgehammer assault underpinned by amazing drummer, but no ebb and flow), Nebula was a godsend. Enmeshed in the fog-machineFillmore-era-light-show stage setting, Glass spun like Wayne Kramer or Sonic Smith, Romero hammered and crooned like Don Brewer, and the band settled comfortably into their hard charge like the seasoned pros they‘ve become.

Timeless shit all the way, Nebula could’ve headlined Raji‘s 10 years ago, the Whisky 35 years ago or Spaceland today and still rocked the house with their amped-up, honky version of the blues. The sway thing, the giddy whoosh that rock has given its people for the last three generations, lives on in these skinny shoulders.

So screw the ”stoner“ thing -- Nebula are organic rock, a gaggle of guys from the outer limits who mosey along at their own pace and who’ve evolved unencumbered by the outside world. If this is the only real rock going on in 2000 (and it sure seems to be from most vantage points) and you need a fix, tap into Nebula -- it‘ll do even the most jaded heart a world of good.

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