The Sludge Metal Thread

August 08, 2023 02:13 PM

Crowbar - Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form (2001)

I am currently endeavouring to fill some glaring gaps in my Fallen knowledge and Crowbar are one such omission. I have heard several tracks whilst compiling playlists for the Fallen, but album-wise I have only listened to their latest offering, 2022's Zero and Below, in it's entirety. Whenever I have encountered the band I have enjoyed their breed of sludge metal very much, so I figured it was high time I came to grips with arguably their best received album, Sonic Excess in Its Purest Form.

Well, by kicking off with an absolute beauty of a slab of sludgy awesomeness in opener, The Lasting Dose, they gave themselves a hard act to follow and an uphill struggle to maintain such a high level of quality for the entire three-quarters of an hour runtime. This track is a perfect balance between crushing heaviness and a pathos-infused, melancholy air, which is a tricky balancing act to carry off successfully, but they pull it off to devastating effect here, to the point where it reminds me a little of Patrick Walker's Warning - yes it's that good! So, after such an impressive opener you could he forgiven in thinking that the rest of the album may struggle to maintain the quality and while it is true that, at least for me, the other ten tracks fall a little short in comparison, this is still an impressive album.

My biggest issue with sludge is often in the vocal department and a lot of bands walk a bit of a tightrope, often tipping over into unlistenability for me, but Kirk Windstein has a gruffness to his delivery that ensures he never becomes "shouty", which is the point at which a band will lose me. The riffs are titanic and the production on the guitars is devastating, giving them a planet-crushing weight that suits those sludge-laden riffs perfectly, especially on the slower material. The riffing itself as well as being ridiculously heavy, is also tinged with that edge of melancholic introspection that is the real heart of top-drawer doom metal. Tony Costanza's drumming is simple and effective and, along with Jeff Okoneski's rumbling bass is the rock-solid foundation from which Windstein and Sammy Duet can launch those withering riff-barrages. The lyrics are perfectly legible despite the instrumental heft and with such memorable riffs, this is the kind of album you can suddenly find yourself singing along to.

There is a variation in tempo of the tracks to a certain extent but, personally, I find that it is the slower stuff that is most devastating, particularly Lasting Dose and Repulsive in Its Splendid Beauty. This is not only an album I will be returning to, but it is also one I will be seeking a physical copy of, such has it impressed me.


August 09, 2023 07:17 AM

"Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form" has been my favourite Crowbar record for eons now. In fact, I'd suggest that it's their only genuinely essential release overall.

September 12, 2023 01:02 AM

Winter - "Into Darkness" (1990)

New York’s Winter represent one of the Holy Grail bands in the underground metal scene in that they seemed to come out of nowhere with an imposing sound that would prove to be as influential as it was confronting before disappearing in a puff of smoke as suddenly as they appeared, never to be heard of again. I was lucky enough to discover them way back in the early 1990’s when I borrowed a cassette version of their sole full-length “Into Darkness” from a younger mate (who in hindsight had no real business owning such a release) & found it to sound like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was slower & darker than anything Winter's doom & death metal competition had ever dreamt of creating but it also possessed a much more suffocatingly oppressive atmosphere which really appealed to me although I wasn’t quite sure as to why just yet. One thing I was sure of though was that the genre tags that "Into Darkness" was being labelled with didn't seem to me to be entirely accurate as it simply didn’t sound like any of the other early doom/death releases I’d heard up until that point. As a result, I held it up on somewhat of a pedestal for its sheer originality & ambition & could clearly see the influence it had on the early funeral doom scene in particular. I haven’t returned to Winter’s debut album for many years now but have been really looking forward to it as I've long suspected that this might end up being a very high scorer based on my past experiences with it.

“Into Darkness” doesn’t waste any time in building its much-celebrated atmosphere with opening track “Oppression Freedom/Oppression (Reprise)” slowly dragging the listener down deep into Winter’s dungeon of the dreary. It’s a classic opener in all honesty & is probably the only genuine doom/death track on the album if you wanna get technical about it. The only other track that offers much in the way of that death metal feel (think Autopsy) is the closing title track but even then it’s kinda 50/50. The wonderful three-minute “Power & Might” that sits right in the middle of the tracklisting represents one of the earliest examples of the funeral doom metal sound & is possibly even one of the best too but the rest of the album is made up of an abrasive brand of doom metal that, when combined with bassist John Alman’s growled vocals, seems to sit far more comfortably under a sludge metal tag than anything death metal related. There’s really not much death metal instrumentation included on “Into Darkness” in all honesty & the links to Celtic Frost (see “Servant of the Warsmen” in particular), crust punk gods Amebix & sludge metal acts like Crowbar seem like far more appropriate points of reference to me. Are the vocals death growls? I’d suggest they play in the space between sludge metal & death metal but when combined with this super down-tuned & filthy guitar tone they seem to possess a crusty hardcore edge more regularly than they do that grisly Chris Reifert-ish death metal tone. That’s right ladies & gentlemen. I’m suggesting that “Into Darkness” isn’t actually a doom/death record. It’s predominantly a sludge metal one for mine.

The strongest moments on “Into Darkness” are where Winter fully indulge in their slower, doomier side (see “Goden”, “Power & Might” & my personal favourite “Eternal Frost”) & you’ll rarely find as doom-laden a record in that respect. Drummer Joe Goncalves does an outstanding job with his minimal contribution which always maintains a metronomical tightness despite playing in spaces that are rarely touched on as far as tempo goes. Joe seems to know exactly what these tracks require & provides no more & no less that that. Guitarist Stephen Flam (also of fellow New York doom/death outfit Serpentine Path) has achieved a ridiculously heavy guitar tone too but I’d have to suggest that the album would have benefited from his riffs being higher in the mix, despite that oversight contributing to the unique atmosphere that “Into Darkness” pervades. On the occasions when Winter head in a chuggier, mid-tempo direction we see them more openly sharing their crust punk/Celtic Frost roots (see “Servants of the Warsmen” & the start & end of “Destiny” & the title track) & these sections don’t offer the same level of appeal for this doom-obsessed ol’ extreme metalhead.

“Into Darkness” is the epitome of cold, barbarous oppression & perhaps shares this trait as readily with doom/death bands like Australia’s diSEMBOWELMENT or America’s Cianide as it does with its sludge metal contemporaries but that shouldn’t prevent us from labelling the record under its most appropriate genre tag (which is sludge in my opinion). There’s little question that it’s one of the best examples of doom-focused metal music you’re likely to find though which has subsequently forced me to find room in Top 100 Metal Releases of All Time list to cater for it as a result.


September 18, 2023 12:21 AM

So until the two albums I asked to be put on MA are here, I'm going to be working on another top 100, one outside of my clan.  I decided on sludge, so I'm currently re-evaluating some sludge albums to help cement my current stance on certain sludge albums.  This might rewrite the whole way I look at it.  But the same Rexorcist here knows what he likes...

Anybody got any good suggestions for very diverse and varied sludge albums, like When the Kite String Pops or Hell III?  I know sludge can be about length, but hey, one of my favorites from my sludge binges was When the Kite String Pops, and after finding it online I kept the 100 rating and even raised its list position.

September 18, 2023 04:38 AM

I would recommend Pig Destroyer's "Natasha" E.P. as a very diverse take on sludge metal.

September 18, 2023 10:46 AM

I don't know if you're also talking about atmospheric sludge, Rex, but I'll just start with several standard sludge metal recommendations for you (a couple of them aren't super sludgy, but they're key to the diverse variation):

Cult of Luna - Cult of Luna (2001)

Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back (2009)

Godflesh - Hymns (2001)

Isis - The Mosquito Control EP (1998) (this month's Fallen feature release!)

Knut - Challenger (2002)

Today is the Day - Today is the Day (1996)

Will Haven - WHVN (1999)