Category Archives: Sludge Metal

Favorite Metal(ish) Albums Of 2012

‘Tis the season for year-end lists of what everyone and their dog thinks are the best albums of the past year, as well as the incredibly pretentious and elitist mindsets that come with them. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s best for anyone, but I do know that there are definitely albums I enjoyed much more than others, despite some critical flaws in some of them. My tastes can be a bit whacky at times, but I’m pretty sure that there are at least a few people out there who will be curious to know what my favorites are, so I will be sharing them.

But not here.

Instead, I’ll be doing a series of posts over at Under The Gun Review that will double as a countdown to when we’re free of the holiday hell that is the month of December.

Because they’re happening one at a time, I’ll be posting the list as it goes live day by day over at UTG in list form here.

#25: RIITTIIR by Enslaved (read it)
#24: Results by Murder Construct (read it)
#23: Awakened by As I Lay Dying (read it)
#22: Ex Lives by Every Time I Die (read it)
#21: Failed States by Propagandhi (read it)
#20: Eremita by Ihsahn (read it)
#19: Dead End Kings by Katatonia (read it)
#18: Les Voyages De L’Âme by Alcest (read it)
#17: Autotheism by The Faceless (read it)
#16: All Hail The Void by Enabler (read it)
#15: Legend by Witchcraft (read it)
#14: Death Is The Only Mortal by The Acacia Strain (read it)
#13: No Matter Where It Ends by Black Sheep Wall (read it)
#12: Book Burner by Pig Destroyer (read it)
#11: Parallax II: Future Sequence by Between The Buried And Me (read it)
#10: Monolith Of Inhumanity by Cattle Decapitation (read it)
#9: Incongruous by Beneath The Massacre (read it)
#8: All We Love We Leave Behind by Converge (read it)
#7: CVI by Royal Thunder (read it)
#6: Danza IIII: The Alpha – The Omega by The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza (read it)
#5: Hasta La Muerte by Xibalba (read it)
#4: A Flash Flood Of Color by Enter Shikari (read it)
#3: Yellow & Green by Baroness (read it)
#2: Koloss by Meshuggah (read it)
#1: L’Enfant Sauvage by Gojira (read it)

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Xibalba – Hasta La Muerte [Review]

There’s a saying that goes “slow and heavy wins the race” (or something like that). Southern Californian band Xibalba have definitely practiced this mantra for quite some time now, as evidenced in nearly every song they’ve released in their somewhat short history as a band. More evidence of this is provided in their forthcoming sophomore album Hasta La Muerte, being released via Southern Lord on August 14, 2012 (just one year after Southern Lord released their first album, Madre Mia Por Los Dias).

When considering a band’s relative heaviness, anyone who has listened to a considerable amount of heavy music can tell you that it’s not simply tuning down your guitars, adding lower strings, and playing lower notes. Tone, texture, and songwriting are what take low notes and turn up the density meter. Xibalba get this. Guitars churn, drums thunder, vocals roar and together they create a terrifying cacophony meant to convey pure, unadulterated intensity. And it works. Swapping between sludge/doom noise passages and pure hardcore beatdown sections with the ideal balance between loose and tight playing, Xibalba have achieved a truly oppressive level of heaviness on Hasta La Muerte, and are unrelenting when wielding such heaviness.

Unfortunately, such unrelenting heaviness has led to an album that feels a bit one-dimensional in nature. Not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for anything that isn’t a blend of hardcore and sludge/doom metal to the heaviest degree you’re basically out of luck. Saved from being a disaster by songwriting and sequencing, the most interesting tracks and moments on the album are spaced out enough so that you don’t get bombarded with an overwhelming amount of sameness song after song. Hasta La Muerte is also definitely not for people who have disdain for slow-developing albums as there are a lot of slow, noisy, drone-esque sections throughout the album, especially between the meat of tracks.

Lyrically, Hasta La Muerte is incredibly real and personal, touching on a litany of grief and strife in day-to-day life. Most of the lyrical content pulls no punches, lines such as “I found peace in darkness, and comfort in solitude. There’s no love or feeling in this broken home.” clearly being designed for impact and realness. Opening the song “Stone Hearts” we get a glimpse of the best Xibalba’s lyrics have to offer: “Stone hearts are hard to break. Pound away, try to break me down. Stone hearts will never change.
Cast away, in rubble I’ll remain.”

As an album, Hasta La Muerte is monstrous. From the first drum hits and sustained guitars are a constant barrage of musical haymakers not for the weak-willed. Loud, thick, raucous and relentless: the word “punishing” is perhaps used too often by the metal community at large, but it is certainly applicable here. Almost seemingly imperfect by design, Hasta La Muerte just feels right the way it is. To quote a song from the album, “I never seem to do things right, but it sure feels right.”

Track picks: “Laid To Rest” and “Stoneheart”
Score: 8.5/10
For fans of: Black Sheep Wall, Disembodied, Crowbar

I’ve included a Spotify player here for folks who want to check these dudes out. Which should be all of you.

Crowbar – Sever The Wicked Hand [Review]

Sever The Wicked Hand is the ninth album from New Orleans sludge metal legends Crowbar and was released on E1 Music February 14, 2011, the band’s first release in six years.

In the history of metal, there are only a few bands who can really be attributed with being pioneers and landmarks in their respective styles and Crowbar are just that. In the early ’90s Kirk Windtstein and company cemented themselves as the premier sludge metal band of the time. Even at their worst, they’re still as good as any band to ever make sludge metal (after all, the did help make the mold).

Sever The Wicked Hand is exactly in line with everything that you’ve come to know and love about Crowbar, except possibly a bit darker this time. Kirk’s concentrated and powerful vocal delivery over constant fuzzed-out guitar riffs. The flavor of this album is very slightly different than 2005’s Lifeblood of the Downtrodden; a slightly different sound is to be expected after six years and, aside from Kirk, a totally new lineup.

There’s not a lot of speed in this record, it’s as slow as ever. Many songs employ Kirk’s more sorrowful and semi-clean vocals with more slick (but still fuzzed-out) guitar licks. Don’t worry, for all of you that like the thick and thrashy chugged out riffs, they’re still there. In general, however, Sever The Wicked Hand is still an incredibly heavy album, just not in a modern headbanger sort of way. It’s a slow, marching, and deliberate heavy at most times that feels more like a classic Black Sabbath sort of heavy.

The most interesting part about this album, though, has nothing to do with the music or performance itself, but rather the production and mixing. It sounds totally unlike a vast majority of metal records nowadays, outside of maybe some of the more obscure black metal bands. It’s an incredibly heavy sound without having a ton of sound packed into the lower register, most of the meat of these tracks are on the mids and so you really get to hear the full effect of the fuzz. It almost sounds rough around the edges, but deliberately so. There aren’t any fancy bass drops to add extra emphasis on chord changes, it’s all natural kick.

As a whole, as I mentioned before, Sever The Wicked Hand is everything we’ve come to know and love about Crowbar, perhaps this time with a little extra sorrow embedded in its sound and lyrics.

Track picks: “Liquid Sky And Cold Black Breath” and “The Cemetery Angels”

Overall score: 9/10 Devil Horns

Greber Wants You To Eat Shit

In all of my time as a music blogger/listener/journalist/obsesser, I’ve never come across a band quite like Greber. Normally, a statement like this is taken with a negative connotation, but in this case it is the exact opposite. The brainchild of Marc Bourgon (of Fuck The Facts) and Steve Vargas (of The Great Sabatini), Greber are about as bare-bones as it gets in terms of a lineup. There are two men in the band–a drummer and a bassist–but they make a sonic force worthy of a full band.

Hometown Heroin is the band’s debut release, and a mighty one at that. Clocking in at just under twenty-three minutes, it’s hard to understand how the band managed to fit such a huge amount of content in. Hometown Heroin is certainly not your typical album in any way, and Greber wants this to be known from the very beginning of the album. Starting off with a nice bass harmonic intro, you get the full-on dropkick to the balls that the album soon becomes and understand that Greber are in no way messing around.

At times the album borders on a very doom metal sound, but never becomes grounded there. Once your ear is starting to settle on the slow and sludgy doom sound, the Jacob Bannon-esque powerful barks come back in and the bass and drums kick the intensity up a notch. Frenetic rhythm changes and chaotic barks juxtaposed with relaxed bass grooves make up a large portion of the album, but somehow given only a few small elements the album is never predicable at any moment. Listening through it, it plays more like an extended jam session of one song or idea, expanded into multiple movements.

The thought of “Man, I’d really like some guitar there” does not cross one’s mind at any point during the album. The sonic force and intensity between the drums, vocals, and guitar are more than enough. Any space found on the album is a welcomed rest from the ear, and helps to created a great contrast to really show how massive of a sound Greber has found.

Be sure to check out Greber on MySpace and catch them on tour when they’re near you, as I’m sure their live show would pummel you into the ground. The album is a recommended listen for people who want something along the lines of Black Sheep Wall or Admiral Angry.

As the one-sheet reminds us: “We all need to eat shit sometimes and this band is a reminder to everyone.” So get to feasting on some feces!

Mastodon – Crack the Skye [Review]

Crack the Skye is the fifth full-length release from Georgian Heavy/Progressive metallers Mastodon. This being their fourth release with Relapse Records. Crack the Skye was released globally on March 24.

Mastodon crack the skye album cover

It’s hard to find words that haven’t already been said about a Mastodon album this far, but Crack the Skye has presented listeners with an even more broad and lofty soundscape to enjoy and talk about that simply commands something new to be said. Having given many listens to each of Mastodon’s previous albums, Crack the Skye is not very surprising in terms of the direction, or the sound really, but the presentation and quality are simply beyond measure. Even the most simple and minute sounds on this album act like monoliths of sound.

Seemingly borrowing a bits of post-rock and post-metal styles, there is a lot of atmospheric textures on this album, “The Czar” showing the more prominent examples of this. They maintain this style without forgoing the Mastodon sound so familiar from Blood Mountain and Leviathan. The more coarse vocal approach has taken a bit of a back seat this time however. Mastodon also have many more angular, “twangy” guitar riffs, like those found in excess on Blood Mountain.

As always, Mastodon are technically brilliant with their instruments, most impressively – Brann Dailor on the skins. Using a veritable cornucopia of rhythms, time signatures, fills, etc. he really shows what it means to be a great metal (and even jazz) drummer. If there was ever a doubt in someone’s mind of the skill level of the members of Mastodon, this album should quite adequately quell the negative comments.

There is no doubt in my mind that this album (and band) will go down to be one of the most important metal acts in this decade. With remarkably well written, played, produced, etc. music Mastodon are bringing back a much needed prestige to the American metal scene. Where Americans were frowned upon for breeding the cancer that was Nu Metal, we have started to now be looked upon in a different light, and this album will only solidify the fact that Americans can indeed make great and pure metal.

Track picks: “The Last Baron” and “Oblivion”

Overall Score: 10/10 devil horns