Bokassa have had a whirlwind trip. Releasing their debut album Divide And Conquer in 2017, the band were Lars Ulrich’s “favourite new band” and were invited onto Metallica’s Worldwired Tour. The third Bokassa album, Molotov Rocktail, is released tomorrow and is perfect evidence that third album syndrome is not an issue for this Norwegian trio.
Bokassa – Molotov Rocktail (Napalm Records)
Release Date: 3 September 2021
Interview: Steve Ritchie
During the Metallica tour, Bokassa released their second album Crimson Riders, and that period was a rewarding experience. “It was a very surreal feeling and an unreal experience,” vocalist/guitarist Jørn Kaarstad told MetalTalk. “Here we were, an unknown band from Norway, supporting the world’s biggest Heavy Metal band on some of the biggest stages in Europe, the UK and Russia. It was insanely cool.
“Every day was a great experience. New places and new cities that we’d never been to before. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Crimson Riders was released in 2019 during the tour, and Jørn says it was very well received. “We released it halfway through the tour, so we didn’t get a chance to concentrate that much on the album release since we were on this big tour that had all of our attention, but I think it went down well.”
The album certainly helped the band get noticed more, and they recently signed to Napalm Records, another fascinating step up for the band. “Napalm had been following us for a while,” Jørn says, “and we felt the step was right to move over there at this time. It’s very cool to be on the same label as Monster Magnet.”
Monster of an album
The new album, Molotov Rocktail, is a monster of an album and is packed with eleven superb riff-based tracks. It is quite apparent that the band have smashed third album syndrome out of the park. “Thank you so much,” Jørn says. “We are absolutely thrilled with it—our best work to this day. I think you can really hear the musical evolution in Bokassa on Molotov Rocktail.”
This album is more of a team effort. In the past, Jørn was the main songwriter for the band. “I still write the songs,” Jørn says, “but this time around Bård and Olav contributed riffs to some of the songs, which is great because it takes some of the pressure off me, especially when it’s such a great riff as the bridge riff for Hereticules that Bård had.”
The name Bokassa comes from an African dictator. There are serious lyrics in many of their songs, but there are some fun songs in between, which makes the new album quite a good mood changer to listen to. We wondered if it was a natural organic process to decide the direction of each new song or if the decision was made before they begin writing each new one? “Sometimes the lyrics are there from the beginning,” Jørn says, “but mostly I have like random words and placeholders to find the rhythm and melody. So I have to write the lyrics afterwards, and it evolves from there.”
The band are described as playing “heavy stoner rock riffs,” which may be considered a trifle alienating, although that is probably just my perception of the genre description. I was immediately drawn into the album on opener Freelude – a great scene setter. Then, straight into the awesome So Long Idiots makes for a great start.
Are they a potential first two songs for a live set? Idiots would get me singing along, with a smile on my face, probably waving a beer? “We are going to start the sets with Freelude,” Jørn says laughing, “and thought about going straight into So Long Idiots but felt it was weird to start the set with a song that said goodbye to people. Both will be played live, though.”
Even Pitchforks R Us seems to have a smile on it, but are there more serious undertones here. In the song middle, a chant of “Punishment” is “a kind of a reaction to the growing trend where people get offended by almost everything,” Jørn explains. “And while there are people out there doing good with calling people out on their bullshit, there is also a growing amount that comes along for the ride, cause they like the excitement of being included in a mob and don’t care about a cause. They just want to see blood. Kind of like the witch hunts back in the day. So it’s a tongue in cheek look at that whole situation.”
Burn It All
Burn It All is another favourite track, a great example of how the guys blend melody, great riffing, and great song structure, all built around a solid, exciting, heavy rhythm section. All with a chanted “the dream is dead” message.
“The song is about someone who has believed something their whole life and lived and fought for that, for them to realize that it’s all a lie,” Jørn says.
The accompanying video looks like it was fun to shoot too. “I think that video is probably our best yet,” Jørn says. “It was very fun to shoot. We spent two days with director Troll Toftenes and just filmed from morning till night time. The hardest part was filming with the sheep heads smeared with minced meat and fake blood to make it look horror-like. It smelled. That being said, cooked sheep head is a Norwegian delicacy and tastes fantastic.”
A superbly strong finish
I could talk about plenty of other tracks on the album, but it’s a superbly strong finish. The first single, Careless, is great, and I love the fantastic Code Red, “Very cool to hear,” but does Jørn have any personal highlights?
“I have a lot of personal favourites on the record. Burn It All, Hereticules, Pitchforks, and Immortal Space Pirate 3 Too Old For This Sith, are maybe my top four at the moment. But it changes weekly!”
And, to finish on the epic Immortal Space Pirate 3 Too Old For This Sith is quite a stunning effort. It’s quite a statement for the whole album, a slower, emotional, powerful finish. “We’ve always done that on our records,” Jørn says, “as I think it’s important for an album to have a good closing song. And since this was the last of the Immortal trilogy, I felt it was important to have a grandiose finish. When I write the Immortal songs, I set out to write longer epic songs, as that’s kind of the concept for those songs.
“I try to always push ’em to around seven minutes, which I normally don’t do at all. But it’s kind of a ‘no rules’ type of song process. I’ve always loved Metallica’s No Lead Clover, the way they do clean guitar choruses and heavy verses, so I tried to use the same switch on Immortal 3 as well. I think it worked out great.”
Molotov Rocktail was finished, pre-COVID-19, but not recorded. “We recorded it right after our tour of Norway got cancelled,” Jørn says, “so it was nice to have something to do, even though we couldn’t play live.”
As the COVID-19 lockdowns progressed, Bokassa’s experience was “probably fairly similar to a lot of bands,” Jørn says. “I wrote a lot of songs since we didn’t have anything else going on. We also rehearsed a lot, just in case. But at a certain point, we had a break from rehearsing and everything because there just wasn’t anything happening for months. So it was a bit demoralizing. Glad that the world is starting to open up now.”
With the world indeed opening up, Bokassa are touring Britain in October, which should put them high on Metal fans “ones to watch” list given this latest release.
How much is Jørn looking forward to getting out on tour again? “Very much so,” he says. “It has been a long while now—two years since we last played in the UK. We can’t wait to be back there. All of us are obsessed with your meal deals, so we are ready to taste that again.”
Molotov Rocktail is a great album and something which really excites me to see the band live. What are their hopes for it? “I’m hoping that people who hear it will love it as much as we do,” Jørn says. “And that’s a lot. I think people who like this band are used to the fact that we have a lot of different genres mixed together, and therefore I’m not very worried about people not getting it.”
With an album this strong, another bigger tour can not be far on the horizon. Any message for the fans? “See you soon.”
Molotov Rocktail can be pre-ordered at napalmrecords.com/bokassa