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)

December 07, 2023 12:41 AM

Crowbar - "Obedience Thru Suffering" (1991)

I didn’t get into New Orleans sludge metal establishment Crowbar until much later than some as it wouldn’t be until my return to metal in 2009 that I’d first give one of their albums a crack. I’d very quickly find myself traversing their entire eight-album discography in quick succession from there though & tended to find that I liked Crowbar a lot from a purely stylistic & conceptual point of view but that their albums often suffered a little from poor production which saw them never quite managing to reach their full potential. 2001’s “Sonic Excess In Its Purest Form” would be the first record to break away from that curse in my opinion & it would become my go-to Crowbar release over the many years since. The band’s 1991 debut full-length “Obedience Thru Suffering” offered me the least appeal from memory, even though I still remember quite enjoying it. I haven’t returned to it in something like 14 years now though so it’s definitely about time I reassessed that position.

Despite what my vague recollections may have been telling me, the production job on “Obedience Thru Suffering” is actually quite acceptable & shouldn’t be a problem for too many listeners. The quality of the music is way better than I was expecting too, even if it is a touch samey. To offset that characteristic though, the consistency of the song-writing is very strong with no weak tracks included. The album probably just lacks a few more genuine highlight tracks with “My Agony” being the only one that I feel reaches tier one status.

It's pretty common to see “Obedience Thru Suffering” tagged as both sludge metal & doom metal but, despite the album undeniably being chock full of enormous doom riffs, I’m not sure the doom tag is really necessary because sludge metal is essentially a biproduct of doom to begin with. There’s a detectable hardcore flavour to most of this material (particularly in the depressive & gravel-throated vocals of front man Kirk Windstein) that keeps the album centred in sludge territory for mine but doom fans will still be able to relate to it pretty comfortably too. I might be being presumptuous here but I’d be very surprised if Celtic Frost weren’t an influence on Crowbar as the riffs take a similarly simple yet crushingly heavy format a lot of the time which can’t be a bad thing now, can it?

On the evidence here, it's hard to understand how “Obedience Thru Suffering” isn’t talked about in the same breath as Crowbar’s next six or seven albums to be honest. It’s been many years since I revisited those records so perhaps I’ve simply underrated some of them but I tend to think it’s more a case of this one being underappreciated. I’m guessing it’s a retrospective opinion based on fans of Crowbar’s later material finding the album to be a little different to what they were expecting as the band would only get heavier & more oppressive from here. That doesn’t mean that “Obedience Thru Suffering” should be overlooked though & I strongly urge you to add it to your essential Crowbar list, particularly if you’re into sludge metal artists like Acid Bath, Eyehategod or Melvins.


December 18, 2023 06:21 PM

Fudge Tunnel - "Hate Songs in E Minor" (1991)

Loved my time revisiting this very strong alternative sludge metal debut album from my youth this week. My old review is still as relevant as it ever was too:

"This full-length debut from UK sludgers Fudge Tunnel is driven by a chunky riff-based sound that sits somewhere between early-Godflesh & Nirvana's "Bleach" album. Alex Newport (who later went on to form Nailbomb with Max Cavalera of Sepultura fame) drives his guitar sound to the dirtiest, fuzziest levels imaginable & there is a real groove to the huge riffs. When the tempo slows down a bit the intensity is sometimes at it's highest level due to the sheer weight of noise coming out of those amplifiers. "Spanish Fly" is particularly massive & is the album highlight. I can only imagine what these tracks would've sounded like in a live environment. The two cover versions that end this release are a little bit disposable & unnecessary in my opinion but they both feature the same sort of powerful riffs as the originals so I can deal with them. "Hate Songs In E Minor" shouldn't be over-analysed. It should be enjoyed for it's simplicity & fun just as my brother & I did as teenagers back in the early 1990s. Some kids never grow up."


December 20, 2023 02:33 PM

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean - Obsession Destruction (2023)

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean are an anonymous, four-piece sludge metal crew from Massachusetts. Their name is apt as a metaphor for the crushing weight of their material, bearing the listener down as surely as those many, many metric tonnes of pressure exerted at the ocean's floor. That monicker is, of course, taken from a Thou song and that is hardly surprising as they sound remarkably like their obvious influence, yet they are proficient enough, both songwriting and performance-wise to stand on their own two feet and stand clear of the shadow of the Baton Rouge sludge masters.

The band have a devastatingly thick, distorted guitar tone that is very much based on Thou's signature sound, but as I absolutely love Thou's guitar tone, then that is just fine by me. The vocals are painful, ragged howls with their origins in both hardcore and black metal, that shred the ears with their shrieking roar and tear at the soul with their heartfelt desperation. It has to be admitted that this is quite simple metal, there are no fancy tricks, technical gymnastics or attempts to surprise the listener, but that is all to the good as far as I am concerned, because this is metal for those who want to engage with the music on an emotional and visceral level rather than an intellectual one. This is as visceral a sound as any high-intensity death metal or febrile black metal, it's just that this is bludgeoningly heavy rather than rapier sharp and will result in crushed limbs rather than savage flesh wounds and ultimately it is music so heavy it feels like it has some physical effect on reality itself.

Though I say that this is fairly simple in structure, that doesn't mean that it is monolithically dull or unimpressive. There is enough variation in tempo and tone to keep the mind engaged, often turning to a post-metal style of atmospheric tension building and release that gives the listener a well-deserved payoff by track's end. Ultimately, it must be admitted, if you have no love for Thou and their extended sludge metal outings, then Obsession Destruction will probably leave you cold, but for those of us who view this style of throbbing, crushing sludge as manna from heaven and who enjoy being swamped and overwhelmed by the listening experience, then this is 66 minutes of pure gold.


December 22, 2023 03:01 PM

Dirge - Dirge (2023)

Dirge are an Indian sludge metal five-piece, formed by members of hardcore punk band Death By Fungi in 2014. After almost ten years, this self-titled effort is only their second release, but they must have been busy honing their craft over the last decade, because this is a very accomplished slab of atmospheric sludge metal that certainly flicks all the right switches, at least as far as I am concerned.

Playing up to the sludge metal tag, this has thick, smoke-wreathed, stonerized riffs that serve as one half of their dual attack, in combination with Tabish Khidir's taut, throat-shredding roar, this is an example of the cudgel and the blade wielded with impressive adroitness and clinical skill upon the listeners aural sensibilities. Don't let me give the impression that this is relentlessly aggressive however, no there is more to Dirge in the songwriting department than that. They are equally adept when luring the listener into a misleading sense of calmness with gentler, soothing sections before unleashing their pent-up anger once more, such as during Malignant where the hypocritical politicians and businessmen of the world stumble into their lyrical sights and feel the full weight of Dirge's spleen being vented upon them (not as it bothers the bastards much I don't suppose, but you can't knock the band for trying).

I did label this as atmospheric sludge, but I mean that more as a description than in relation to the actual genre. Dirge don't exactly adhere strictly to the post-metal convention of build-build-release, but rather use gentler sections as a counterpoint to the general agressiveness of most of the runtime and thus render their conventional sludge metal more atmospheric as a result. I certainly wouldn't lump them in with Cult of Luna or Neurosis, but a better comparison for me is Germany's Hexer. The production absolutely nails the requisite sound, imparting a huge amount of weight to proceedings that an album like this stands or falls upon. I don't know too many Indian metal acts I must admit, but of those I am familiar with, Dirge top the tree.

Super-solid 4/5

January 10, 2024 07:41 PM

My updated top ten list after indulging in this month's The Fallen feature release this week:

01. Pig Destroyer – “Natasha” E.P. (2008)

02. Isis – “The Mosquito Control” E.P. (1998)

03. Gaza – “No Absolutes In Human Suffering” (2012)

04. Monarch! – “Omens” (2012)

05. Fange – “Pantocrator” (2021)

06. Mastodon – “Leviathan” (2004)

07. Great Falls - "Objects Without Pain" (2023)

08. Black Cobra – “Invernal” (2011)

09. Ufomammut – “Eve” (2010)

10. High On Fire – “De vermis mysteriis” (2012)

January 14, 2024 11:55 AM