Posts Tagged ‘Sludge’

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been a long time. An insanely long time. Apart from a brief spell where there were a handful of seated gigs on offer around August of last year, live music has been off the menu for the best – or worst – part of sixteen months, and a long, torturous sixteen months it’s been for so many of us – not least of all those whose livelihoods depend on it, but also for those of us who find comfort and catharsis in the experience, a few hours’ escape from the grind of daily life.

I haver to confess having anxietised over the prospect of attending my first live show since August 2020, since which time I’ve barely set foot in a pub or anywhere really, having been working from home since forever. Less fearful of Covid, more of social situations in general, fearful I’d lost the little social skill I had from before, I simply wasn’t sure what to expect, and the worst fear is the fear of the unknown, and this had perhaps tempered my immense excitement.

In the end, it transpired I needn’t have worried, and everything was nicely managed at the Victoria Vaults. They’ve moved the bar since I was last there, and the refit works well in making for a significantly bigger gig space and next to no bottlenecks, plus the bar staff were friendly and attentive with their table service – which was perhaps as well, because it was sweltering and needed to maintain a flow of cold cider.

Sitting just feet from a real drum kit with my shoulder against a PA stack felt great, and simply being back in that environment brought a great joy. Then there was the lineup: one of the last shows I’d seen, back in January 2020 had featured both My Wonderful Daze and Redfyrn. Both had impressed then, and given reason to come back for more. Although, of course, January 2020 feels like another life.

With King Orange having dropped off the bill without explanation, it’s a later start with Redfyrn straight on and straight in, with the power trio kicking out hefty blues-based grungy heavy rock with a sludgy/stoner vibe, driven hard by some crunchy 5-string bass. Cat Redfern’s soaring vocals are at times almost folksy, and contrast with the hefty lumbering riffs. Collectively, they’re tight, the songs textured and dynamic. There’s a lot of cymbal, but some proper heavy-hitting drum work and the sludgy sound is both steeped in 70s vintage and contemporary influence, resulting in some solid swinging grooves. The mix could have perhaps done with more guitar, but then I was sitting in front of the bass amp and about six feet from the drum kit. Closer ‘Unreal’ has bounce and grit and groove and is a solid as. The band were clearly pleased to be on stage again, and it came through in a spirited performance.

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Redfyrn

My Wonderful Daze’s singer Flowers may be feeling and looking a shade off colour but is in fine voice and all the better once she’s taken her boots off at least for a while. The band bring more big, lumbering riffs, and any concern they may have been rusty after the time out proves to be unfounded, because they’re tight – and loud. They bring all the rage early in the set, coming on more Pretty on the Inside – era Hole than Live Through This, more Solar Race than L7. It’s not long before she’s sitting down to sing because she’s dizzy, and yet still fucking belts out the angst, and despite visibly struggling throughout, it doesn’t affect things sonically: the band don’t just play on, but continue to give it their all. Watching this set really brings home just how hard bands work to do what they do. The slow-burning ‘Dust’ is something of an epic that’s emotionally rich and transitions from a gentle chime to some simmering power chords with some audience participation clapping to aid the build.

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My Wonderful Daze

They announce apologetically that they’re cutting set short to skipped to encore song Tommy for fear of fainting, but it’s a valiant effort and the right choice, although Flowers didn’t make it past the first verse before rushing from the stage. The rest of the band finish the song – and the set – with force, and all the credit to them for their consummate professionalism. Both bands did themselves truly proud, and delivered a great night, and hopefully the first of many.

Southern Lord – 25th June 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Twenty years is a long time. But that’s how long it’s been since Iceburn last graced us with new material. The shifting collective, primarily operative between 1990 and 2001 reconvened in 2007, with this current lineup again at the core.

As the band’s bio summarises, ‘The band’s initial output slowly evolved from hardcore and metal to free improvisation and noise. The 10 year arc saw the band following their own path and becoming more and more obscure as they got deeper into unknown musical worlds. By 2000 the cycle seemed complete and Iceburn did their final tour in Europe 2001. In 2007 this early core crew reunited to play a local anniversary show focused on the earliest material. Every few years since they would get together for another ‘reunion’ until that word became more of a joke, it was clear the band was back, getting together every week, and working on new material.’

And here it is: two truly megalithic tracks, each spanning the best part of twenty minutes, and packing them densely with some hard-hitting, churning, trudging, sludgy riffs.

This is some heavy, doomy, din: the riffs are Sabbath as filtered via Melvins, and let’s face it – Sabbath may have invented heavy metal, but it was Melvins who reinvented it with that gnarly, stoner twist and all the sludge.

It’s about halfway through the eighteen-minute ‘Healing the Ouroburous’ that things take a bit of a crazy turn. The lead riffing steps up to next-level flamboyant and I’m starting to think ‘this is maybe a bit much’. It’s not just that it’s technical, it’s just a bit fretwanky, even a bit Thin Lizzy, like ‘Whisky in the Jar’ jammed for fifteen minutes at a gig with three local support bands for a minor-league headliner – but then they pull it back and we’re returned to slow, lumbering territory. If there’s a brief burst where it sounds a bit Alice In Chains, it’s forgivable, because within the obvious genre framework, Iceburn bring in so much to expand the limits of convention, and it’s refreshing, especially from a band with so much history. It would have been so easy for them to just turn out a brace of droning riff beasts where not a lot happens, and no doubt they would have been lauded for their return to form and their place in the underground canon, but… well bollocks to that. Then there are the vocal – shifting between a low growl and some quite melodic moments, but all kept low in the mix.

‘Dahlia Rides the Firebird’ is another absolute bloody behemoth, a collision of Earth and Melvins, and a real slow-burner that takes suspense to a point near the limit. It takes three minutes before it even begins to take form, and then lumbers like some giant Cretaceous riff-lizard – one with big, swinging riff knackers at that. Yes, this has some swagger, and it builds, and it builds… The monster crunching riff that crashes in to punch hard in the last five minutes more than justifies the wait. When it lands, it’s absolutely fucking colossal.

Asclepius is a statement, and one which informs us that Iceburn are forward-facing and aren’t looking to recreate the past or retread old ground just to please people. And that in itself should please enough people, because this is so, so solid.

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Bloodshed666

Christopher Nosnibor

This Viennese collective describe themselves as purveyors of ‘heavy stuff (crust, sludgemetal, noise rock’ but ‘rooted in diy-anarcho-punk’, and they follow the subtly-titled Shareholder of Shit 10” EP with a 12” picture disc mini album containing five gloriously gnarly blasts of dirty guitar-driven noise.

Much of the appeal of anything that’s crust-orientated is just how grimy and raw it is, and while a few samples cut through with clarity on several tracks here, for the most part, Desolat deliver a set that is little short of a wall of incendiary rage, a snarling, spitting, guttural roar coughing blood and venom against guitars so dingy they positively drip gunge.

If opener ‘Nuclear Extinction to Human Civilisation’ doesn’t exactly sound like a love song, it does probably intimate the band’s perfect misanthropic fantasy, while the title track is the sound of Satan’s innards after a phall. Make no mistake, this is intense, and there’s not a second’s respite at any point: ‘The Bureaucrat’ is a full-throttle sonic inferno that blasts through its three-minute duration at a hundred miles an hour ravaging everything in its path: the guitars a whiplash-inducing blur or fury.

The lumbering closer, ‘Dreams of Slaughtered Yuppies under Starlit Night Skies’, is a six-minute slow-riffing sludgefest that batters away brutally at a simple four-chord trudge. It’s heavy, it’s nasty, and its glorious – which pretty much sums up the record as a whole as it raises a stinking, shit-coated middle finger to all things capitalist and mainstream.

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Panurus Productions – 5th March 2021

Christopher Nosnibor

Bunker is pitched as ‘A heavy shelling from the York based two-piece’ and the drum and bass – and no, certainly not drum ‘n’ bass – duo offer up a monster that, despite having only seven tracks, runs to almost an hour in duration.

On a personal level, there’s a certain degree of pride here: for so many years, York sat under the shadow of Shed 7, as if they were the only band the city had ever produced. And while in terms of commercial success, there’s a certain truth to that, the dreary indie landfill merchants’ success eclipsed everything else – although again, for some years, everything else seemed to consist of largely acoustic blues, which is great for background on a night down the pub, but ultimately, variety is the spice of life, and the last decade has seen York’s diversity thrive – thanks in no small part to supportive venues giving truly alternative acts a platform. And the more diversity is showcased, the more breeds. And so, out of this melting pot emerged PAK40, mining a seam of stoner / doom, but with a keenly experimental edge that really set them apart.

This is all explored in full here, and it bulldozes in on a cascade of feedback that emerges into a lumbering riff on the deep psych grind of ‘Sausage Roll’, the first of three tracks which originally appeared on the ‘Crusts’ demo release a couple of years ago. When they take it down a notch, there’s a certain swagger to the strolling bassline, a subtle jazz swing to the percussion – nothing fancy, just a bit of groove. There are vocals and other details echoing away low in the mix, and it’s quite spacious and trippy. And when the distortion kicks back in, it’s fat and dirty.

‘Rain’ spreads out sedately over a whopping ten minutes, taking its time wandering an almost blues-tinged modern psychedelic territory (off the cuff references to Desert Mountain Tribe and Ghold come to mind) before bringing the weight. It’s a slow-burning, meandering effort that holds back more than it gives until the final couple of minutes.

When they do ‘proper’ vocal songs, as on ‘Hollow Man’, said vocals are all but buried by the grumbling, buzzing bass, and a shedload of reverb. And when they do shift from strolling psych to unleashing the riffs proper, they really do grind ‘em out. ‘U-96’ goers more post-punk minimal, but packs a massive kick at the end.

The heavy afterburn of ‘Pyramid’ is scorching, but it’s almost inevitable that the fourteen-minute ‘Elephant’ should be the album’s centrepiece, and it looms like a monolith in every sense, and encapsulates the entirety of PAK40’s sound and scope in one truly epic composition. It does low and slow, a crawling, stealthy intro taking its time and taking its time and taking its time, through a gradual build, with real suspense and atmosphere developing.. and when the riff crashes in – fuck yes, does it crash in, hard and heavy.

Closing off with the title track, a mere seven minute jaunt, they really step up the volume and it’s some weighty drone that drifts like a pea-souper fog from the speakers as they go full Sunn O))). And it’s absolutely glorious. These are the kind of crushing power chords you can simply bask in as they fill every inch of your being. It’s immense and borders on transcendental. You don’t just hear it, but you feel it.

Bunker feels like a full summary of the band’s range and vision, and it’s both accomplished and exciting, and creates a real anticipation of more to come.

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Invada Records – 29th January 2021

On the strength of a brace of tumultuous single releases, anticipation for Divide and Dissolve’s upcoming album was pretty hot. And with Gas Lit, they’re positively on fire.

With the aim ‘to undermine and destroy the white supremacist colonial framework and to fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back’ Divide and Dissolve wear their difference from so much of the scene with pride: they certainly don’t look like your average doom duo. But then, nor do they sound like it either.

They may only be two in number, but Takiaya Reed (saxophone, guitar, live effects/ (Black & Tsalagi [Cherokee]) and Sylvie Nehill (drums, live effects/ (Māori) incorporate an array of unconventional instrumental elements into their immense sound, most notably saxophone. But it certainly doesn’t really lighten the tone with some groovy jazz notes, or even some wilder free-jazz, either.

Granted, the opening bars of the first track, ‘Oblique’ are gentle, soothing, orchestral and with hints of neoclassical or soundtrack music even, but it’s simply a lure before the barrelling drone of low, overdriven guitars so distorted as to melt into a drone, propelled by a frenzy of thunderously heavy percussion. And in the background, brass so mournful as to sound sadder and more lonely than a solitary burial in the middle of the Sahara. It’s a bleak and desolate sound, and one that’s utterly compelling.

‘Prove It’ is pure density, a heavy drone guitar with a sound that’s thick and grainy flows like a mudslide. The blank monotone spoken word vocal on ‘Did You Have Something to Do With It?’ is detached, and disconnected as it speaks of dark thoughts and actions against a sparse, minimal backdrop. It’s eerie and ominous, and sounds more like a segment lifted from a documentary about a serial killer – and in the context of the album, it serves as an unsettling interlude, which provides brief respite sonically only to exchange the aural terror with something sociopathic and equally disturbing.

Seven-and-a-half-minute single cut ‘Denial’ hammers in hard with a yawning drone of guitar that sounds more like a churning earthwork, the drum beats like detonations, before tapering away to leave a haunting scene, the serpentine scales full of an ancient ant elusive mysticism. But it becomes increasingly scratchy and more decayed… and then ‘Far From Ideal’ bulldozes in, obliterating everything in its wake, before things get even heavier, darker, and murkier with the trudging sludge of ‘It’s Really Complicated’.

‘Mental Gymnastics’ is another short piece, and another one which evokes distant lands in ancient times, unknowable wisdom lost in the sands of time, before single release ‘We Are Really Worried About You’, grinds its way to the end on a tsunami of a riff, and it leaves you breathless.

It’s clear that Divide and Dissolve really grasp the power of dynamics, but also have a unique way of rendering those dynamics, not just in terms off the all-important volume changes, but in how they explore mood. More than this, they transcend conventions and standard doom tropes and incorporate myriad stylistic and cultural elements, and so do astoundingly naturally. For all the weight, there’s a bold majesty about Gas Lit that may be difficult to pinpoint but which permeates its very fabric. And for all of these reasons, Gas Lit feels different – and hits so incredibly hard.

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18th January 2021

Yur Mum’s reputation as a hard-gigging and particularly outstanding live act is one that’s been key to their building the fanbase they have. However, the question of how they will continue to deliver live since being reduced to a two-piece is somewhat moot under the present circumstances. That said, on the strength of this outing, being stripped back to a bass / drum combo suits them remarkably well.

The third Monday in January is widely believed to be the most depressing day of the year, and has come to be known as Blue Monday – and it’s for this reason the pair elected to unveil the release today, rather than on Friday, the day that’s come to be established as the ‘standard’ day for releases. Your Mum is rebellious and unconventional like that.

It’s the heavy-duty, gut-punching bass that dominates and drives this mid-tempo goth-tinged hard rock lurcher of a single that comes as a preface to their forthcoming album, Tropical Fuzz. It’s not depressing per se – there’s far too much energy and dynamic action going on here for that – but make no mistake., it is pretty heavy and pretty dark, and certainly a departure from their usual riff-churning grungy bangers, although the trajectory from ‘What Do You Want From Me’ and the rest of the Ellipsis EP is an easy one to chart.

There’s an almost mystical / occult vibe to this dense brooder of a tune, which feels far more expansive and epic than its four-and-a-half-minute running time. More Sabbath than Nirvana, it might not lighten the mood much, but it is the perfect soundtrack by which to channel that bleak angst and the hard, slow emptiness of cold, heavy days without light. It’s no vitamin D booster, but it is exactly what you need right now.

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Multidimensional duo Divide and Dissolve share the video for “Prove It”, originally released as a stand alone single in 2019, and appearing on their forthcoming album Gas Lit (Invada, 29th Jan).

The visual expression of Divide and Dissolve’s message has varied across each of their music videos to date (revisit “We Are Really Worried About You” and “Denial”) but the intention of the music remains unchanged: to undermine and destroy the white supremacist colonial framework and to fight for Indigenous Sovereignty, Black and Indigenous Liberation, Water, Earth, and Indigenous land given back.

About this latest single, Divide and Dissolve explains, “Prove It – calls into question the need to prove you experienced something. If someone wasn’t there to witness it, it still happened and may have caused harm. Colonial power structures, power dynamics, and societal expectations rely on Black, Indigenous, and people of colour being Gas Lit and denying our experiences, because the predominant white supremacist narrative demands us to. When a tree falls in the forest, it has fallen. Prove It is about the acceptance of experiences of pain without expectation.”

Watch ‘Prove It’ here:

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Magnetic Eye Records – 11th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Often, the measure of a band’s quality is in their live performance, especially in the domain of metal when you’re up close and can feel the force, the viscerality and the volume – although these things don’t always necessarily translate to the live recording.

Magnetic Eye Records’ document of flagship band Horsehunter ‘destroying onstage at the “Day of Doom” label showcase at Brooklyn’s Saint Vitus Bar’ in November 2019 at the event held to commemorate the label’s 10th anniversary definitely does translate and makes for an absolute monster of a life album.

The four tracks are almost a quarter of an hour apiece, and the audio quality is exceptional – that is to say, studio sound with the added bonus of live volume. Yes, this SOUNDS loud. Played through speakers and given room to breathe, the sense of volume is suffocating and exactly the way it should be – like you’re in the room as the band lay down monstrous riffs.

For the most part, the pace is a crawl, the chords grinding out slow and sludgy, with throat-ripping vocals in the middle of the mix. Around five minutes into ‘Nuclear Rupture’ things slow to the point of almost stopping, and time stalls, and in this hanging moment we find the absolute essence of Horsehunter: that moment of perfect tension that hangs before the next chord crashes in like a landslide with a power that is utterly decimating in its destruction.

There is beauty to behold, but it’s the kind of beauty elicited in the watching of the bombing of Hiroshima in slow-motion. And with its frenetic guitar solo work and gut-churning bass that thunders across the abyss with earthquake-inducing force, this live recording is little short of devastating.

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4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Bandcamp Fridays have been providing a rare and unique lifeline for struggling artists, and while times are still ridiculously tight in what continue to be utterly bewildering times which have hit the music industry where it really hurts – namely grass-roots venues and the artist who depend on them – the opportunity for artists to actually make a proper revenue from sales or downloads and physical releases is a big deal.

And if one thing’s become apparent, its that artists are going all-out to create releases that offer something different for their fans, and the unexpected arrival of an EP of 90s grunge covers from U.S doom quartet Embr.

Recorded in August of this year – in an actual studio, no less – with Matt Washburn (Mastodon, Royal Thunder, Artimus Pyledriver) the EP finds the band bringing a full-blooded sludge tone and a doomy, old-school, Sabbath-esque twist to four songs by leading exponents of the grunge era – with each member of the band selecting a song for inclusion.

Confession time: I absolutely fucking loved Nirvana, and still do. Alive in Chains, I dug, but never really found any enthusiasm for Stone Temple Pilots or Soundgarden, preferring Mudhoney, and the greasy heft of Tad. Nevetheless, what’s clearly apparent from listening to these four cuts is the degree of sincere affection for the songs and the sound that’s on display here. Moreover, they’ve done a great job of selecting songs that suit their own sound, showcasing the strengths of the original songs while sounding like Embr. It’s also something of a revelation hearing songs originally sung by men delivered by a female vocalist, and again, that they’ve pitched them in Crystal Bigalow’s range is a major factor in their success.

If the half-tempo trudge of their take on ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (Crystal’s choice) takes some getting used to, its impact – as the immense power chords drive down hard and heavy – is strong. The ultra-low bass that rumbles at a crawl through the stripped-back second verse is worth the money alone, but ‘Junkhead’ is probably the heaviest track here – which is no real surprise, given that AIC were always at the most overtly metal end of the spectrum in the grunge canon.

Then again, despite the rather poppy middling rock chorus, the repetitive chord sequence of ‘Mailman’ is well suited to a sludgy trudge-along, and ultimately, Embr have done a good job, making Idolatry well worth a punt.

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Panurus Productions – 4th December 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

Although August is the peak of the British summer, its end often seems to mark a sharp shift into Autumn; less a transition than a rapid cut. It’s a trick of the mind and a distortion of memory, of course, but summers always seemed longer and hotter in childhood; the realisation that what once felt like an infinite expanse of time which was free to fill or squander at will is, in fact, but a heartbeat in a life is a source of deep anguish. There is never enough time. No-one ever lay on their death-bed lamenting that they wished they’d spent more time watching repeats of Bargain Hunt or Homes Under the Hammer or whatever, no-one complains that they read to many books or spent too much time living their life, do they? The torment of a constant awareness of the passage of time is self-sabotaging, as the paralysis of panic grips hard. And pitched as ‘a screaming elegy for lost moments and isolation’, this is precisely what Centuries of August, which takes its title from a line from a poem by the solitary and reclusive Emily Dickinson, articulates.

If everything seems to be dominated by themes of isolation and derangement in 2020, then perhaps that’s because the magnitude of the events – or non-events – we’re living though exit on a scale that is truly all-consuming. Even the most introverted and reclusive are finding the isolation difficult to deal with: there’s a world of difference from choosing not to go out and see people, and not having the choice, especially as for many, music events provide a safe space where it’s possible to feel included and among people without the need for the kind of forced interaction that’s part and parcel of the workplace, and where it’s possible to experience a sense of community and collectivism without conforming to the less comfortable social conventions.

2020 has revealed new shades of darkness, and Centuries of August expresses anxiety, panic, rage, fear, isolation, in every one of those shades – as long as it’s black.

It’s a low, ominous synth drone that brings fear chords like creeping mist in a graveyard that marks the stealthy arrival of ‘Ripe for Solitude, Exhausted by Life’ – before all hues of murky black metal hell break loose. It’s a thunderous tempest of the darkest, densest noise, pounding hard and fast, before eventually dissipating once more into to quiet clouds of synth.

‘The Breezes Bought by Dejected Lutes’ is by no means the Elizabethan romantic piece the title suggests, but a savage blast of bleak and brutal mid-range sludge. There are drums, guitars, and vocals in the mix somewhere, but everything is a grimy blur and it’s impossible to identify anything distinctly.

Quavering dark ambience cast shadowy shades of gloom over the opening moments of ‘This Lamentable Autumn’; a picked lead guitar line adds a rich, brooding atmosphere, and then there’s everything else, coughed up from the very bowels of hell, a swirling sonic fog that goes beyond pea soup to the consistency of treacle, and wading through the barren soundscape for sic and a half minutes almost precisely recreates the experience of the last eight months in sound, before eight-minute closer ‘Under the Lowering Sky’ bulldozes in with cranium-crushing density.

That Centuries of August takes the lo-fi production values of the genre to its more extreme limits is integral to its appeal: the fact it’s so murky as to border on the frustrating is a source of power here, accentuating the oppressive density of the compositions to a level of intensity that hurts. But it’s the kind of pain that’s the perfect mirror, reflecting the conflicting nature of time, amplified by the anguish of living in the now.

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