A gas masked wearing human, arms open and beckoning you to the apocalypse.

Photo by Parker Simon

The Greek word apocalypse typically conjures up thoughts of a violent destruction or a catastrophic end. Yet, the word itself translates literally to: an uncovering, a reveal, a parting of the veil.

It is in this context that San Francisco three-piece band TONG ponder the apocalypse on their new album MAN, out now.

MAN is a particularly heavy song cycle by most standards. It sounds at home among the likes of King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard and Ty Segall‘s discography. Corporeal imagery is sung in unison with heavy riffs; Parker Simon’s gnarled basslines are paired with Alex Dang-Lozano’s distorted drums. Tom Relling’s slide guitar offers a surprising texture — melodies shift from ethereal textures to Sabbath-inspired fuzz at the drop of a hat. The musicianship is superb and the band is tight, no doubt about it.

Tong album art, a curious and corporeal shape.

Tong album art by Gabriel Nikias

The question “What makes a man?” became album’s north star. In one sense, the question is literal — LUNG, EYE, MIND — each song title is named after a different part of the body. But as you could imagine, that question is really rooted in metaphor. “TONG set out to artistically explore this concept within the context of a dying American patriarchy, drawing influence from disturbing scenes of toxic hyper-masculinity, white supremacy, police violence, a Trump presidency, and an array of other shocking events that defined 2020,” says Relling.

Looking back, it’s easy to use our working definition of the word apocalypse as an analogy for the last sixteen months. The Bay Area music scene, as a representative sample, paints a disheartening picture. In that time, we lost several of our favorite venues — Slim’s, The Uptown, and Revolution Cafe to name just a few. TONG’s last pre-pandemic performance was also the final show at Amnesia, the beloved Valencia Street venue that shuttered at the end of February 2020 — just before COVID-19 sent the nation into quarantine.

And yet, even surrounded by the evaporation of these cherished musical spaces — if we imagine the apocalypse not as the destruction of the world itself but as an uncovering of systematic problems, what can we do about it? How can we change it for the better?

As we see our world beginning to reopen, we are faced with the task of making our world a better and more inclusive place for others.

It is easy to idealize the former status quo, to try and pick up exactly where we left off and aim to maintain its same trajectory. But it is much more important to acknowledge that our world was (and still is), in so many ways, broken. Broken by patriarchy, racism, white supremacy, homophobia, ableism, sexism, and transphobia. Broken by inflexible economics — unreasonable and eternally rising rent prices, which had already squeezed the Bay Area’s residents and business owners too tightly.

Glitched out, gas mask-wearing TONG

The first step to correcting course, according to TONG, has roots in another greek word: catharsis. Relling describes MAN as “a sonic patricide to atone for the past, clearing the way for a new way of thinking.” In context, these anatomical song titles take on a new meaning; piece by piece MAN is quite literally a construction that is meant to be incinerated, a burnt offering. Out with the old, in with the new.

MAN is available now on Bandcamp and everywhere else you listen to music.