The most assiduous readers of this blog know that I have a particular passion for sludge metal, I actually believe I hear almost all the new releases for this genre of music. It wasn’t hard therefore to identify a group of albums to propose as the most relevant – and in some cases the most intriguing – publications that we had so far in 2019.
As far as geography is concerned: we have one band from France (Atomic Trip), one from Czech Republic (Opium Warlok), one from Lithuania (Autism), one from England (Mastiff) and one from the United States of America (Hollow Leg).
Now, if you’re ready, put on the proper protections and let’s start this short trip in the most muddy and slimy areas of contemporary metal music.
“Strike #2”, by Atomic Trip
The first blast of sludge of 2019 arrives from Lyon, in France, where a trio of metalheads called Atomic Trip has released a violent charge of pure instrumental heaviness. Active since a few years, Atomic Trip have officially released two discs to date: Strike #1 (2017) and Strike #2 (2019), for a total of four songs (Bomb #1 and Bomb #2 on the first album, Bomb #3 and Bomb #4 on the second). Putting it all together, we total about 80 minutes of music.
The two songs of their new album offer another journey into the rawest and darkest area of sludge: slow and powerful riffs, an impenetrable wall of fuzzy sounds, violent and blasting blows, and a sense of oppression and ineluctability that keeps you down without any hope for recovery. For being an instrumental record, the riffs are not particularly memorable and for this reason I believe that Strike #2 is not destined to gain so much visibility above the underground. In addition to this, the band’s first Strike impressed me more than this second one, especially for the persistent sense of alarm and fear that emerged from their music. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for something capable to smack you on the floor and make you feel the suffocating power of the atomic bomb, here there is something you’ll definitely appreciate.
“You’ll Wanna Be High for This” and others, by Opium Warlock
Among the most interesting releases of this period we have a couple of new publications from the band of the Czech Republic called Opium Warlock. This one looks like a fairly mysterious formation since very little information is available on the band. What we know, however, is that starting from last year they have started to publish a good number of singles and EP on Bandcamp, with the EPs that typically contain 2 songs each. Since the beginning of 2019 there have been already two new releases: a new EP (You’ll Wanna Be High for This) and a split album with the band Skullord, for a total of three new songs from the band: a revised version of last year’s piece Buddha’s Dealer, a new song called Voidsmocker Pt.III (based on a rifle “borrowed” from Kyuss) and a third atmospheric, allucinated and noisy track named Nigth Stalker’s Headache.
It’s not easy to stay up-to-date with the erratic publications of Opium Warlock. Their music, however, is extremely interesting. They play abrasive sludge metal mixed with psychedelic doom, but what’s really relevant in ther music is that their songs are plenty of interesting ideas. Will we ever listen to a “proper LP”? Who knows.
“Civilizations”, by Hollow Leg
Metal band Hollow Leg, from Florida, is active since more than ten years and they have already released to dat four studio LPs. Nevertheless, the band has achieved only a marginal role in the wider picture of American sludge metal, and that’s mostly because their albums didn’t ever manage to impress or to leave a significant mark in the history of this genre.
Hollow Leg’s new studio record, Civilizations, at first glance has everything that you would expect from this kind of albums (low-tuned guitars, “thick” riffs, slow tempos, harsh vocals) and we could even ignore some defects in the overall production of the LP. The real problem, in fact, is that in the end the songs of the album don’t impress, they just flow one after the other in way that when the album arrives to its conclusion you don’t find so many reasons to start it once again. Anyway, there are still some elements of interest in their music: the southern and raucous voice of the singer Scott Angelacos, the nice influences from doom and stoner, and the intriguing bass lines that are played by Tom Crowther. The performance of the bass is really one of the things that impressed me the most.
In the end, Civilization is an album that has nothing so wrong or bad which would preclude for it to be mentioned among the most relevant releases of this period, but it still lacks the charisma and the enjoyability which would put it among the best LPs of its genre.
“Have You Found Peace?”, by Autism
From Lithuania comes a band with the questionable name, but which plays a damn interesting music. The kind of metal that these guys propose in their records (they are already at the fourth LP) can be described as a combination of cinematic and atmospheric post metal with strong elements of sludge and doom. The songs are extremely fascinating, both for the deep and powerful sounds created by the quartet, but also for the way each song of the album tells a different piece of a single story, which is generally terrible.
Have You Found Peace? develops around the concept of two friends that one night steal a car and have an accident, which will cause for one of them to sustain severe burns on the face. He will be damaged for the rest of his life, entering depression and losing any kind of social life, until one day he dissapears forever. Each songs of the album represents one of the letter that the other friend, who didn’t receive any damage from the accident, wrote before and after the disappearance. A very sad and gloomy story, which however was translated into music in a truly effective way.
“Plague”, by Mastiff
There are records that seem to be made with the only objective to transmit malice and disgust, and to drag the listener into a virulent mud of distortions, angry screams and blasts of noisy guitars. Plague, which is the second and most recent album by the English band Mastiff, enters decisively in this category of products and does it with an impressive level of brutality and violence.
The experience of listening to Mastiff can be summarized as follows: you are first inundated by a burning tide of pure noise and chaos, until a monolithic, thick and slower rhythmic sequence emerges from the bottom and gives you the final shot. For those who are familiar to this kind of music, or who need at some point some trigger for releasing the tension, the album can be pehenonemal. For all the others, it’s better to stay away.
Stylistically speaking, Mastiff’s music is a chaotic mix of sludge and hardcore, with rhythms that go from grindcore to doom. The sounds are particularly sharp and brutal, also thanks to the choice that was made by the band to record the album entirely live, with all the musicians packed in one single room and no tracking involved.
Plague is that kind of albums that are so brutal and extreme to have some charm. And if at some point of your day you feel to need a sonic shock, this is the record for you.
For staying up-to-date on sludge metal publications you can wait for the future episodes of The Sludge Metal Radar or, alternatively, you can follow the playlist TOTAL SLUDGE, which is now featuring all the brand new songs that are released from all over the world. It has been recently rebooted, but it already features more than 1 hour of music. The playlist is expected to grow rapidly so follow it and check it periodically.
Another more famous and more followed playlist is SLOWLY. It’s dedicated to the slowest and most beautiful songs from sludge, doom and post metal. In this moment the playlist features more than 7 hours with the best and slowest music you can find on Spotify. Listen to it, follow it and spread the word!