After five years honing their craft with live shows and a trail of EPs, Finnish Stoner/Sludge quartet Black Royal garnered decent praise for 2018’s debut album Lightbringer (Suicide Records). Follow-up Firebride (also Suicide Records) delivers more of the same but with a certain refinement and increased maturity to that Death-flavoured, filthy anger.Continue reading →
The term Stoner / Sludge is an insult to US quartet Torche and, what’s more, has never even come close to defining them or their blend of crushing backgrounds and soft harmonies. Fifth album Admission (Relapse Records) sees Jonathon Nũnez assume guitarist duties from the departed Andrew Elstner, with Wrong frontman and former Kylesa bassist Eric Hernandez taking over the bass role.Continue reading →
Given the name, you’d expect Baltimore quintet Asthma Castle to deliver a wheezy form of Stoner/Sludge derived from the likes of Hollow Leg. Debut album Mount Crushmore (Hellmistress Records), the band’s first release for nine years, shows considerably more bounce and fun than any such misplaced assumptions, but flattens it all with unfathomable, cosmic weight. Continue reading →
I first saw Croydon bludgers Slabdragger three years ago and, having been completely flattened by their bone-crunching resonance, immediately bought first album Regress (Holy Roar Records). Despite it being good, I subsequently felt they were a band to be witnessed rather than merely heard.That all changes here. Sophomore long-player Rise of the Dawncrusher (Holy Roar Records) is a mammoth, sprawling journey through the black holes of the cosmos, an achievement all the more amazing given the setbacks the band has suffered in recent years. The musical twangs of opener ‘Mercenary Blues’ carry enough portent to warn of the forthcoming walls of forest-levelling sound and, despite the melodic hollers of Yusuf Tary and Jim Threader, the ensuing riff grabs your soul and sticks it in a blender. Stoner-Sludge in tone and feel yet Psychedelic in its warping terror, the difference here is the wonderfully enlivening, Progressive nature of the linking passages: versatile verses with vocal switches between Blackened screams and guttural roars, still underpinned by the cavernous yet occasionally cascading stellar pathway.
Whatever Slabdragger had before, the ability to flick such a heavy pattern through the chords has multiplied their appeal tenfold. With four of the five tracks here easily surpassing the ten-minute mark, the listener is in for the long haul, yet will not for a second feel dragged along. The elongated coda of ‘…Blues’ possesses an electrifying emotion that rips apart the fabric of the template; while the segue into the bulldozing, YOB-tinged ‘Evacuate!’ pulverises the ears and introduces a rampant, occasionally nasty Jazz-infused groove. Severin Black’s drum pattern following the ominous intro of ‘Shrine of Debauchery’ is simple yet potent, hauling Tary’s terrifying bassline in its wake and setting the tone for the claustrophobia of the swelling, pulsating body.
And this is merely halfway in. The album’s last two tracks cover 33 minutes and crush so comprehensively they create a vacuum, riding and bouncing off planets as they travel along. The beauty of this second slab of vinyl is the paradoxical compatibility between its extremes: the implosive power of ‘Dawncrusher Rising’s opening gambit begins so steadily, growing almost unnoticeably to a gravestone-cracking rut whilst remaining compelling, hypnotic, masterful. The monstrous Blues of closer ‘Implosion Rites’, meanwhile, is Cream slowed to a crawl and delivered by Zeus, Poseidon and Hades: the slowed rhythms fulminating and muscular, the harmonised vocals Ozzy-esque yet resplendent, the pedal effects gradually halting the earth’s rotation.
Quite simply, and to retain the mythical analogy, this is Atlas: utterly despondent, pissed off with his fate, and deciding to fling the planets around after a few beers and a reefer. Rise of the Dawncrusher is fucking incredible, an unmissable masterpiece of both its genre and its times.
There’s a shimmering, spectral beginning to Light the Way (Prosthetic Records), the fourth full-length from Arizona trio North and the first to feature bassist Evan Leek as lead vocalist. Its gently stirring sound suggests no little emotion or drama ahead, and that’s certainly what unfolds. The stark, Post chimes of opener ‘Moonswan’ carry through into the title track and penetrate the heart; whilst Zack Hansen’s Doom-paced drums and Leek’s gravelly Stoner-Sludge roar, appearing less strained than that of long-time predecessor Kyle Hardy, deliver both ferocity and weight.
There are elements of both Kowloon Walled City and Black Sheep Wall here, but with a more noticeable pain and sadness: the plaintive, desperately sad music polarised by the brute force and slow pace of the rhythms, and the vocal nastiness. The sinister bass and wailing guitar opening ‘Weight of All Thoughts’ lead to a pulsating riff which at times hops and crushes with gay abandon, seemingly at odds with the soaring, emotive leads puncturing it. Similarly the Low-end, plangent hostility of ‘Earthmind’, again dictated by portentous tub-thumping and Matt Mutterperl’s colossal riff, is gradually invaded by heartfelt undercurrents.
The switches in tempo of the bruising ‘Primal Bloom’ display the band’s skill and versatility, whilst not straying far from the template. The gentle beauty of the nevertheless ominous ‘Rhef Anad’, however, does show a willingness to depart from a sound which would have proved wearing if unbroken for a full album. Indeed there’s a certain tedium in the oft cumbersome nature of the aptly-named ‘On a Beaten Crooked Path’, and the staccato ‘From This Soil’ which, although seismic and lively, loses a certain amount of impact from that unflinching vocal.
In spite of this, the juxtaposition of suffocating heaviness with sparkling, introspective chords emits attractive shards of light and shade which does win out overall. The gorgeous yet melancholic thrum and jangle of the instrumental closer ‘Relativity’, harking back to North’s earlier days, shows the band in its true light. Its delicate anger finalises a listenable set, showing enough of the invention and emotion of old to offset the intermittent chunks of flab.
Another year, and more juicy low-end horror to get our teeth into. London trio Hag has been around for five years yet Fear of Man (DNAWOT Records) is the band’s debut album – and it’s a hulking, resonant beast of a thing.
The opening title track is a curious amalgam of Black Sabbath and the grungy/post-hardcore infusion peddled by the likes of Kowloon Walled City: vocalist Ian Baigent finding a middle ground between Ozzy Osbourne and the scarring pain of Scott Evans. The ensuing ‘Kingdom O’ and the brutal ‘Trauma Yauma’ set the tone for the rest of the album with a vicious, Stoner-Sludge vibe: a speedier, Melvins-style bluster given a Doc Marten to the arse, with Baigent’s growl reminiscent of Matt Pike. ‘…Yauma’, however, cascades beautifully to a staggered, psych-drenched second movement which shows the band’s invention alongside some endearing rough edges.
A potent production brings every ingredient to the fore, giving the roars of ‘Rainbow Dust’ no little beef whilst forcing huge riffs and Tamas Kiss’s titanic drums through the soul. The High on Fire link grows throughout the album, in particular through the sandpaper groove of ‘Low’, and the slightly ponderous yet fathomless ‘Metal Detector Man’ and ‘White Lion’. The swelling, ferocious riffs and powerful drums prove the overriding influence of the Americans, but a unique English personality allows those variations to shine through and help the band find their own identity.
The intricate, Jazz-tinged structures of the latter tracks, following a ‘stop-go’ format, are augmented by Bluesy leads which, although fleeting, leave their mark and exemplify that nasty charm. The rhythms of the penultimate ‘Beaten at Your Own Game’ pummel the mind whilst leading the senses a merry dance, with Robin Freeman’s bass work utterly ground-shaking. Closer ‘Wrong Bar’, meanwhile, shows both the few flaws and soaring attraction of Hag’s nefarious intent: a slightly limited vocal working alongside crushing power; an occasionally lumbering pace twisted and transformed by sheer oscillating muscle and flowering creativity.
This is an album that will continue to grow, overshadowing any limitations while flinging forward the boundless ammunition in Hag’s arsenal.