Sun, 12 Jun 2022
Read in 10 minutes
Scraping through the grime at the bottom of the barrel.
I’ve been on a sludge kick recently, so there’s no better time than the present to dive into 2022 Vortexian sludge activity.
Sludge confuses members of the Interdimensional Vortex of Conspiratorial Tastemaking and there is little in the way of a consensus. In the shadowy e-pages of a far distant Discord channel, users squabble and bicker over truth of sludge. What is sludge? Why is sludge? If there is a consensus in the pro-sludge camp - a smelly squadron in the community - it’s concerned with oppressiveness.
In brief, I’m a sludge apologist and sympathizer. I seek grim, exposed emotion when it comes to sludge - I yearn for a wash of giant, over amplified riffs that crackle with rage, accompanied by scathing vocals and a hypnotic, even meditative approach to riffcraft and song structure. Others seek a greater sense of progression in their sludge, a similar heaviness but a greater sense of pace and energy that connects to the hardcore pit-goblin that hides inside all of us. Others seek the muddy doom-blues that hides in the amplified, extended, hazy riffwork, a playful simpleness that can make sludge seem like a one-dimensional beast.
In one’s pleasure lies one’s disgust. Sludge slanderers find that there’s a fine line between greatness and shitness with little in between. Some find it braindead and bullheaded with little in the way of variety concerning atmosphere and structure. Some find it too derivative and excessively concerned with creating rage-filled noise rather than harnessing noise to create an interesting sound.
So, how is sludge doing at the midpoint of 2022? For the clarity, the bands and albums featured in this piece are labelled as ‘sludge’ in the 2022 Community Spreadsheet, this includes ’sludge’ with adjectives such as ‘blackened’ and ‘atmospheric’, hybrids such as ‘sludge/death’, and worthy spin-offs with discernible sludginess (e.g specific ‘post metal’ albums that can be construed as being ‘atmospheric sludge’ or post-hardcore/-core adjacent releases that lean towards sludge).
To clarify further, analysis of records is either my own or a collage of opinions gathered from the Discord server. These fragmented comments are integrated into the writing with attributes to the user - this serves as a reminder that any flippant comments made on the Discord server will come to bite users in the arsehole. Your words will be used against you and engraved into the halls of the Vortex for eternity.
Let’s open the sludgy gates.
The Big Hitters
Arguably the biggest sludge/post-metal hitter of ‘22 is Cult of Luna. The Swedes churn out another facsimile of long-winded, atmospheric sludge - The Long Road North doesn’t deviate from previous patterns. With a runtime of 70 minutes - common for the style - the record is a heavy pill to swallow. Its twilit, barren, southern vibe opens up CuL’s sound to a range of contemplative moods. There’s a solid mix of subtlety and softness that merges with the crushing build-ups and layering of post-metal textures. As is often the case, however, CuL is a band with too many good ideas and too few good voices of dissent - songs need snipping, sections need tightening, flows need shuffling. I find it difficult to consume a CuL record despite loving certain songs and segments of a record; Mariner is the only release that I feel works as a unit, partly due to the extra, consistent dynamic of Julie Christmas’ vocal input. Tarb said “Despite CuL’s ability to usually write compelling albums, their last effort overextends themselves with lacklustre songs that progress too slowly to be appreciated. What’s left is a good atmosphere that saves the record from complete averageness.” (16 votes; 5.40 WAVG)
Primitive Man is the frontrunner in the race to achieve the most oppressive, downtuned and funereal sludge. If you’re looking for viscous crust from the lowest layer of hell Primitive is your go-to trader. PM’s 38-minute E.P. Insurmountable is a side-mission on a lengthy quest. After wading through deep shimmering guitar noise, echoing screams, and droning ambient noise passages, you may find recycled plot points, although the story at the core remains excitingly abrasive and atmospheric. Bonus points for the cover of The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Quiet.” Vortex quotes: Scutt - “I think Primitive Man are pretty good” but he finds them “nihilistic and exhausting.” Not something you’d put on to kick back too.
NOLA stalwarts Crowbar still exist. With their twelfth record Zero and Below the band attempts to prove that sludge isn’t just a young man’s game…or is it? Grief, too, is back - well, sort of. Come to Grief - consisting of Grief guitarist Terry and drummer Chuck - attempts to recapture the classic 90’s sludge sound with When The World Dies. Personally, I didn’t get a lot from it after a first listen, but other Vortex members found more to enjoy. Cherd of Doom and Other Genres somewhat praised the records, stating that Crowbar and Grief dropped “non-embarrassing albums for old folks.” Not quite ringing endorsements but respectable comments. Little in the way of excitement emerges from these legacy acts. They’re here, they’re ready to rock, and they smell of sluggish decay and stale beer.
Crusty, emo scented sludge is pungently performed by London’s Morrow. Their third full-length The Quiet Earth - a rich tapestry consisting of violins, acoustic guitars and 14 guests vocalists (including someone’s mum) - impressed Rehten: “As sludge overlords dwell and drown themselves in sluggish slumps, London’s supergroup Morrow holds the upper-hand of the scene with their third offering. Masterfully woven with fabrics as powerful as they are intimate, this swirling maelstrom rains crust and sludge alike on our frail shoulders, pouring despair inside our broken selves, with little acoustic clearings cracking here and there from the thick, sick and sludgy skies”.
Thou has become one of the biggest names in the sludge and non-sludge world, partly due to their incessant release schedule, their online presence, and their drive to engage in topics often untouched in the macho world of metal. Thou straddle different scenes and their music is eclectic, perhaps even scattershot. For the metal crowd, Thou’s collaboration with funeral doomster Mizmor - a studio recording of their Roadburn live show - crushed and grooved and grated with a blackened sludge menace. Also this year, Gewgawly I and Thou collaborated with the NORCO Original Soundtrack, an Ambient/Sludge hybrid release that exemplifies Thou’s goal to stick their dirty finger in many pies, throw those pies at the wall, and see what sticks. Some poor millennial is sure to lick it up.
The Conflict Starters
Urzah’s creatively titled II received a green-for-good (7) from resident stoner-sludge soldier Quillon but a measly red-for-really-not-too-good (4) from Ferday ‘just going to the shop for cigarettes will be back soon, son’ the Unicorn (update 11.6.22: he is back from the shop). II is a swaggering, stomping, slightly bro-ish record that stinks of flannel and broken glass. Thick, chunky riffwork and short, sharp vocal shouts are the spine of the record, though there are some tasteful moments where the record becomes a lightly-psychedelic swirl of groove and reverb. I reached out to Ferday for a comment but heard nothing. Quillon sent me a picture of his nipple piercing.
The Good according to the Book of Aker
Well, isn’t this awkward…
The Near-Good According to the Book of Aker
In woodier realms, Æquorea’s Dim merges post-rock softness with sludginess. Soft and solemn breaks in intensity, most eloquently achieved in the spacey, wobbly break in the back end of “Mara of Holy Spirit,” add variety and a journey-like feeling to the record. The riffs are big but clean, restrained - a bit of dirt beneath the nails would intensify the excellent snarling vocals and add a greater textural contrast to the softer breaks in the record. FFO: Isis, long walks in the forest.
I saw Kurokuma in a small vegan pizza venue in 2016 which is less of a humble brag and more of a lament about the state of life. My memory was of a hazy three-piece who cared more for cranking up the amp to silly levels and playing repetitive riffs. I expected little from their debut full-length Born of Obsidian, however I was surprised by its ability to merge heavy riffs and playful grooves with expansive songwriting. Born of Obsidian is less concerned with capturing aural filth and more concerned with actually writing riffs that progress a song through various vistas. The flavours of the Latin world are peppered throughout the record which gives it a playfulness, but at the same time it’s not too watered down and weaksauce. Instead, there are traces of the absraveness from Kurokuma’s early days that merge well with the fun. The record does drag, and there is a lack of dynamism in some of the riffs, but there’s something here that might make you not want to kill yourself. Quillon said “this Kurokuma is quite nice sludge” and an excitable Goldi said ‘this one’s going in the relisten queue” which means it won’t get another listen. (6 votes; 5.40 WAVG)
Eyesnomouth - a band missing a space bar and caps lock - play sludge straight and true. Their E.Ps are rough, monotone slabs that try to be nothing more than punky monstrosities. You listen to music like this to feel nothing - it really works!
Mares of Thrace play a punk ‘northern’ doom that smells and sounds like weak piss. Its lazy stoner swagger, phlegmy harsh vocals, and flimsy treble tones root their sound firmly in the middle: mediocre and forgettable.
Industrial Sludge is made on the streets but the roadmen of the Vortex have little patience for the pipes and wires of bands like Urskek, Night City and Absent in Body. Absent in Body promised the most and delivered the least; the Neurosis, Amenra and Cavelera ‘supergroup’ created a record that set out an interesting atmospheric story arc but failed to deliver any form of showstopping climax. Instead, it seemed happy to dwell in a soggy mid-paced mid-range for its runtime.
The mentally deranged find sludge relaxing. Quillon quested for a meditative sludge record and found a glimmer of hope in the form of Dhyana’s Satori. The diamond he thought he found was a shard of broken glass. Satori is polished zen. It glistens and rocks a listener to sleep by layering 90 minutes of droning, stonery, swaggery steadiness upon the malleable minds of pseudo-spiritualists of the Silicon Valley. To be fair, there are traces of intrigue in the record, an occasional diamond in the rough where the drones sweep through the universe and root a listener to the spot.
The Bad According to the Vortex
Ufomammut (6 Votes; 4.87 WAVG) - Italy’s psychedelic overlords Ufomammut have had their third eye focussed on the sludge scene since 1999. They’re a band held in high regard in psych-doom meditation circles but the Vortex, lacking spirituality and patience, has cast Ufomammut’s 10th full-length Fenice into the dust. Vortexians commented on the record with neither disdain nor praise, “this is just there, nothing more” wrote a despondent, detached Abso. :residentsleeper: An honest Scoop made a bold statement: “pretty boring tbh” and Anal, in a comment from 2019, hit the Ufo on the Mammut with his potent assessment of the band: “Ufomammut just meanders in downtuned purgatory.”
Goldi disliked Huntsmen’s E.P. The Dying Pines, scoring it a red-4. Goldi was unavailable to comment; like Ferday he has gone for cigarettes and milk (update 11.6.22: Ferday has since returned from the shop). Knowing Goldi, he disliked the release because it’s too backwards facing, trying to be Fleetwood Mac on crack. It’s 70s rock with a modern radio-rock production and the occasional big riff. Vocally, the interplay of vocals is annoying and I can see why Goldi sent it into orbit. The folk is false and any elements of metal are dishonest. Boo!
Here are some others that are not worth your time:
Abraham’s post-hardcore flavoured sludge drew disdain from boyband Abso, Scoop, Goldi and Scutt (red-4s across the board! (5 votes; 4.69 WAVG)).
Bestial Piglord - Funeral Home (4 votes; 4.27 WAVG)
Directional - Invasive (3 votes; 4.33 WAVG)
Sludge sucks. Keep listening, there must be something great out there…