Posts Tagged ‘Sludge’

I remember when Baroness first broke out, they were quite sludgy and while not inaccessible, certainly not quite radio-friendly either. Early albums like Red Album and Blue Record mixed Thin Lizzy clean guitar with thick stoner-sludge and swampy vocals. I remember also, when they dropped their double album ‘Yellow And Green’ and they went from a band I liked a bit due to a slight Mastodon similarity, to a band I really cared about and actively followed.

To date, I still think of Yellow & Green as an utter masterpiece and that it was one of the best albums by anyone I care about to be released that year. Its when the band really stepped out of any other band’s shadows or any one subgenre’s constraints and just went everywhere they wanted all at once…. The follow up Purple was near as good, trying (and succeeding) to condense the sprawling mix of styles, tempos and timbres of the very diverse double album into one single straight-up rock record with flavours from everything the band had done before but a focus on being succinct and accessible (without sounding too far from their more metallic roots of course).

With their new album, Gold & Grey, the band are leaning a bit back more into Yellow & Green’s experimental territories. There is a focus on diversity here. Succinct is not a word I’d use to describe this. This album seems to be reveling in the freedom to do everything and anything. ‘Seasons’ for example has spidery guitar lines that wouldn’t feel out of place on a King Crimson album, mixed with a strange lo-fi noisy production job that makes it sound like some Sonic Youth style art rock piece, but then there are also blast-beats in their briefly to bring back the metal. Sometimes it goes full prog, with ‘Sevens’ sounding like mid period Camel. ‘Broken Halo’ has some lovely bridges that I can see crowds loving when this material is toured live, but goes a bit Yes during the solo.  

There are also quite a few brief quiet, sombre, slow numbers across the album’s 17-track duration. ‘Blankets of Ash’ for example is a nice sounding acoustic guitar interlude over some creepy foreboding soundscape. ‘Crooked Mile’ is a jangly acoustic number that sounds more like an intro than a full blown tune of its own. ‘Assault On East Falls’ sounds like the music from a dream sequence in a Japanse videogame.

You can hear a bit more Radiohead and a bit less Red Fang in the DNA at times I guess (the intro to ‘Tourniquet’ or for example), but that being said there are still enough big fat choruses and catchy hooks to keep the sing-along feel of Purple. The album opener ‘Front Toward Enemy’ for example is just a foot down melodic rocker to get the blood pumping. The chorus to the single ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ is almost as catchy as something like ‘Take My Bones Away’ or ‘Shock Me’ from previous albums. ‘I’ll Do Anything’ sounds like it could be used to advertise the Olympics. Its like if Bon Iver took happy pills and wanted to inspire people to action.

Singer John Dyer Baizley’s rich voice really sets this band apart from the crowd, and when he really leans into the big melodies, it is proper 360 degree helicopter shots on a cliffside stuff. He has such a powerful and evocative voice that can make any line sound immensely meaningful and majestic.  

Considering the line-up change between albums, it still sounds totally like Baroness. You may not have had female backing vocals back on Blue Record but the way John and Gina’s vocals blend and mesh together just sound right.

The album isn’t without its flaws however. The production seems to be quite controversial based on all people I’ve seen complaining on social media. It is also a bit tough to swallow in one go, sitting somewhere between standard and double album length. (Its only an hour, but with 17 tracks there is a lot of different moods, directions and sounds to digest and so it takes up more brainpower than your typical 10-14 track album. If you just wanted an album of ‘Shock Me’ clones, something like ‘Can Oscura’ might be a bit off-putting for example). You couldn’t just slap this on in the background once and love it forever, it’s a grower that you’ve got to give a lot of attention to. That being said, these are minor flaws at the most. I didn’t really consider the production notable until it was pointed out to me by others, and usually an album being a grower at the start leads to an album you’re still loving years later rather than an album that would lose its flavour as fast as chewing gum if it popped right away.

Maybe if you were only into the band for the heaviness of the early days, this album won’t suit you. If you liked the last two albums though, this album is very much going to be right up your street. Its softer, proggier and more considered than it is bludgeoning and meaty. It’s a bit more ponderous than direct and rocking. But it is definitely worth checking out, sticking on repeat and loosing yourself in. It’s an odyssey of new worlds to glimpse, it’s a journey to get lost on. You might not want to head-bang, but you’ll never be bored.

cocCorrosion Of Conformity have had a lot of different line-ups over the years and a few very distinct career phases. Some of the most notable and best of which are the short-lived Blind era of the very early ’90s, where Pepper Keenan and Karl Angel joined the band and wrote a very dark, yet strangely melodic mixture of Sludge Metal and Groove Metal. Then Karl left, Pepper took over somewhat and they released three brilliant mixtures of Stoner, Southern Rock and good old fashion Metal with a bunch of diverse records that had acoustic sections, interludes, ballads and speedy-ragers all mashed into one record. Their final album in that line-up (well, with a new drummer actually, but close enough…) was very Doom Metal focused. Then Pepper left, and the Trio line-up from before even the Blind era reunited but instead of making Hardcore or Crossover Thrash like they did in the ’80s; they released two Doom albums with raw punky influences.

The celebrated and arguably most popular line up (the Pepper-in-charge on from the mid 90s-early ’00s) reunited recently and toured the globe with incredible reunion shows and now the time has finally come for them to put out some new music together. Its probably one of my most anticipated albums in a very long time. What on earth could it possibly sound like?
Well, the first track is a slow instrumental Sludge intro, bringing immediately to mind the Blind era. Next comes the third single, ‘The Luddite’ which is almost indistinguishable from the style on their Doom-focused In The Arms Of God album from 2005, which is interesting to hear with Reed Mullin on drums. It totally works. Speaking of that album, the creepy-ass title track here might remind you of a certain dark semi-acoustic track from there too.

Like their seminal Deliverance album, there are a few instrumental interludes and mood pieces sprinkled throughout. The first two singles, ‘Wolf Named Crow’ and ‘Cast The First Stone’ hark back to the Wiseblood sound, recalling hits like ‘Long Whip/Big America’ or ‘King Of The Rotten’ in a certain specific way that the instruments interact with each other and with the production style (by John Custer, who did Wiseblood too!) leaving the space at the end of sections and sounding very organic and Jammed-out-in-a-rehearsal-room, if you know what I mean. ‘Little Man’ has a very characterful and southern-fried sound, reminiscent of the under-rated 2000 album, America’s Volume Dealer, only without the over-polished production.

So far, so great. Towards the end, there are a also few slower, sludgy, dragged-out pieces that hearken back to both ‘Pearls Before Swine’ and ‘Bottom Feeder.’ It just wouldn’t be a C.O.C album without mixing in something slow and dirty sounding towards the end, would it now?

The overall feeling is a mixture of all the Pepper-era albums, with a warm and very earthy production. It doesn’t stand out as an immediate drop-everything, earth-shattering revelation, but it is a very welcome return (although they were never really that gone recently, and I’d still love if they threw ‘Demark Vessey’ or ‘Tarquinious Superbus’ into the setlist nowadays too!) that gets better with repeat listens. If you walk in expecting to be blown away like the first time you heard Deliverance you might be disappointed, but if you go in with realistic expectations you’ll find a very solid and rewarding album. My favourite track on the album is ‘Forgive Me’ which has a sort of Thin Lizzy vibe to its hook, but a very metallic breakdown, and Pepper’s vocals are very exaggerated and full of character like they were on ‘Volume Dealer.

To top it all off, there’s a cover of Queen’s very heavy and Sabbathy debut album deep-cut, ‘Son And Daughter’ and it really, really suits C.O.C’s sound. I remember Iron Monkey covering it in the past and it is a very suitable track for this end of the Rock & Metal spectrum. I know people imagining ‘Radio Gaga’ or ‘I Want To Break Free’ might raise an eyebrow, but Queen’s debut was a lot heavier than you remember. For Stoner, Doom or Sludge bands it is a natural fit.

In summary; without disrespecting the fine work of the trio line-up, its nice to have the four guys from Deliverance through to ‘Volume Dealer back playing together again with their unique chemistry. The album is pretty diverse, with a nice mix of fast and slow, clean and dirty, stoner and doom, sludge and hard rock, atmospheric and immediate. The production job is perfect and there’s a fairly decent proportion of the tracks would make it into any fan’s future dream setlists or best-of playlists. If you don’t immediately do a spit-take and have heart-shaped eyeballs the very first time you hear it though, don’t worry, it grows on you.

 

220px-COC_BlindBlind is a very interesting and unique record within the C.O.C discography both historically and musically. A transitional record for a band who have had several very distinct and separate sounding periods and musical-directions over the years.

In the ’80s C.O.C were a raw, gnarly Hardcore Punk band (but with Sabbathy doomy tracks here and there too) and gained more and more Thrash influence with each release. In the 2012-2015 one of the earlier line-ups reformed but made more sludgy stonery Metal. The band are most famous however for their 1990s period especially the fan favourite Deliverance and Wiseblood albums which saw them add in Southern Rock, Groove Metal and Stoner Rock elements together into one big melting pot resulting in some of the best music of all time (real top 100 albums to hear before you die type stuff, seriously, if you don’t own those two albums yet, drop what you are doing and explore!).

In 1991 however, C.O.C had an interesting and one-off change of pace, direction and line up. Usual bassist and occasional singer Mike Dean was out (he’d be back again) replaced by Phil Swisher. Karl Agell joins the band and takes the mic, about their fifth singer alreay. For the first time guitarist Woody Weatherman finds himself in company as a second guitarist is added to the line-up, a big step in changing their sound from ramshackle Punk flavour to something else, something more metallic. That guitarist was none other than Pepper Keenan. Pepper of course being famous not only as the guitarist in supergoup Down nowadays, but also the band leader and singer of C.O.C for their most famous and beloved work in the ’90s.

Well, all that history and line-up information is certainly interesting, but it really doesn’t give you any guide as to what this particular record sounds like and if you’ll like it or not. Let me ask you a few questions. Do you like Chaos AD? Do you like Burn My Eyes? Do you like Vulgar Display Of Power? Do you like Cleansing? …if so then you’ll probably love Blind too!

The music is a far cry from the early Hardcore Punk and Crossover Thrash directions. It has yet to gain the Stoner Rock vibes, bounciness or Southern Rock influences that meshed into the sound of their most famous stuff. It is a strange pure perfect early Nineties Metal record. The intro and outro tracks are noisy-ass Doom-sounding sludgy dirges; otherwise however, the rest is a little harder to define. I know some people argue that Groove Metal or Post-Thrash or whatever you want to call it is not a real subgenre. I’ve heard this album called all sorts from Thrash (not really right) to Sludge (no…not right either) to Doom (…nope, not right either). The only one that really fits for me is Groove Metal. Take those above-mentioned four albums, Blind sits somewhere in a cross section somewhere the middle of all of them.

Karl’s vocals are James Hetfield/Chuck Billy influenced, semi-barked and semi-melodic, often very reverby and very, very well-suited to the music. The drums are very rumbly and varied. The guitar is very raw and heavy, never Slayer-fast but with a nice Thrash-style chug mixed in with hardcore fueled long ringing chords. Imagine a Supergroup that was half Black Label Society and half High On Fire trying to cover one of the deeper cuts from The More Things Change. In terms of production, it doesn’t have the warm Hard Rock ready sound of the next two records or the tinny budget-sounding job of the earlier stuff, instead it has a very distinctive early-’90s sound, the kind of thing that Pissing Razors had before the millennium. Something somewhere like Demanufacture only without the futuristic robotic vibes. Its a real charming sound.

Highlights include the ridiculously catchy single ‘Dance Of The Dead’ (Seriously; why don’t the band play this live more often!?) as well as the excellent drum-powered ‘Damned For All Time’ and of course the concert favourite ‘Vote With A Bullet’ which has the interesting point of having Pepper sing lead vocals, a hint of what was to come.

Overall; there’s no band quite like C.O.C and there’s no C.O.C release quite like Blind. If you like the band you really ought to check it out if you haven’t already, and if you don’t like the band yet but are a fan of the albums and bands that I’ve been mentioning throughout then this is a serious gap in your collection, do yourself a favour and give it a try!

Down - Down IV Part II

Down – Down IV Part II

Down IV Part 2 is the American Metal super-group Down’s 2014 release. As its title suggests, it is the second in a series of EPs released under the Down IV title, following up 2012’s “Down IV Part I – The Purple EP.” It was produced by Michael Thompson along with the band themselves and released independently.

This was the band’s first official release without longtime member Kirk Weinstein of Crowbar fame, who is replaced here by Bobby Landgraf. Ironically, this EP is probably closer in sound to Crowbar than to Pantera, Eyehategod or Corrosion Of Conformity (the other groups besides Crowbar that the band are usually associated with).

First up, for an EP, this is actually pretty substantial, a total running time of almost 37 minutes leaves it longer than many albums anyway.

The focus of songwriting this time around seems to focus on the heavier, mid-paced side of the band’s repertoire. I don’t think the distinction between EPs 1 & 2 is all that strict, as in, its not a clear cut case of one has all the fast songs, one has all the slow songs, or one has all the basic songs and the other has all the progressive songs. This EP is essentially more of the Down mid-ground. Its not the most “instant” release in their catalogue, and may take a few spins to really get to grips with, but if you give it the time it asks for, you’ll get the rewards it promises.

Highlights include the brief “Hogshead/Dogshead,” and “Sufferer’s Years,” which is particularly catchy with its “I hate this time of year” sing-along, and the fat ‘60s/’70s sounding riffs in the pre-chorus. It is a nice mixture of the band’s Doom, Sludge & Stoner sides, approaching vintage Hard Rock in 2014 from multiple angles. This is perhaps the most definitively “Down” track on the album, and hopefully it will become a concert staple.

The record ends with the almost nine-minute long “Bacchanalia,” one of the looser and more jam-feeling songs on the record. You imagine it got its title from the drunken party in which it probably spawned (as opposed to a secret love of Batman No Man’s Land). This track in turn ends with a softer acoustic moment, likely foreshadowing Down IV Part 3 as the promised all-acoustic EP originally mentioned when the band come up with splitting the album into different EPs.

Overall; this is not necessarily bold new ground for the band, and the focus on mostly similar direction material may leave some fans feeling an acute lack of variety or excitement, but for what it is, to me personally, Down IV Part II is an entertaining collection of Down songs and a worthy addition to the catalogue. If you’re burned out by the formula, or want something fresh and new from these guys, maybe give it a miss, but if you can’t get enough Down, then by all means jump on board.