If there’s one genre that holds an unshakeable special place in my heart, it’s the doom/sludge genre. There’s something about the slow and confident nature of the genre that you never really find in other types of metal. In opposition to my other favourite genre, grindcore, both doom and sludge metal focuses on slow to mid-pace riffs in crushing levels and sometimes bringing in outside influences.
Yeah, black metal might have its overwhelming tremolo riffs and screeching vocals, death metal its brutality, grindcore its absolute love for chaos… but with doom and sludge, there’s something defiantly proud about it, in comparison with the other genres’ ‘fast = extreme’ consensus. So being introduced to some new doom, sludge, stoner and drone bands is always a great thing…
Make – Axis
Make is perhaps the oddest name for something you would expect for a band in a genre known for its dirty sound, but all becomes clear with this three-piece’s EP release Axis. The US band consists of Scott Endres on guitar and loop control, Spencer Lee on vocals, bass and piano and Matt Stevenson on drums and percussion –while each contributes on synthesisers. With loops, piano and synthesisers in mind, you’d be right in thinking that the band concentrates on textures rather than complete brute force.
The first track is the title track, and for a drone lover, it starts off perfectly. A simple guitar drone meanders on through space, reaching through a void until the bass subtly creeps in and is followed by some soft drums that come nearer to the surface as the track moves on. It eventually leaves the drone phase and fully embraces an ambient stoner-doom mind trip, not far from the likes of Bong or Om, switching between echoed, shining strings that accent the slow grooving drums and bass and simple heavy chugs during the track’s peak.
Second track “Chimera” is a more straight-to-the-point affair – starting with the familiar chugging sludge riffs, tribal-sounding drums and buzzing bass, but this time alternating between roars, throat-ripping ‘snarls’ (for lack of a better word) and growling vocals. “The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters” steps back a bit, with droney, reverbed guitars washing in waves while the bass softly bobs beneath.
In its beautiful essence, Axis is like a Frankenstein’s monster of Pelican, Mouth Of The Architect and Bong – while mostly dealing with soft ambient soundscapes, the band plunders into pure ferocity at moments. Just great. An absolute MUST for sludge/drone fans.
Galvano – Two Titans
Galvano is a two-man sludge piece from Sweden with progressive tendencies and is made up by Mattias Nööjd on guitar and vocals and Fredrik Käll on drums. For just two guys, Galvano manage to fill up the space you’d think they’d otherwise lose without bass thanks to their incredibly dense sound. Two Titans is their debut album, released on Devouter Records.
Unlike the other releases (at least in this part of the list), Two Titans really does feel like a full-length album, containing eight songs. Mattias cites both Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd as big influences on his songwriting, and describes the album concept as “two titans in constant battle: Good/Evil, Darkness/Light and so on. And sometimes wanting to embrace either side”. So it’s no surprise that the sound and lyrical content of Two Titans should appeal to High On Fire and Baroness fans.
As with the comparisons with those two bands, that’s pretty much what you get here with driving riffs, some song progression and an impressive amount of musicianship to boot. The highlight of this album has to be “Maelstrom”, which reaches the pinnacle of tension on the whole release when the drums just pound incessantly near the end of the track, as guitar and roaring vocals fly along them, just creating a well-rounded aggressive sound.
Otherwise, the album is pretty standard sludge. While there’s not that much that has me frothing at the mouth or pounding the walls in excitement, there’s nothing here that bores or disappoints me either. It’s a solid sludge album!
Pombagira – Maleficia Lamia
Pombagira is an English duo that pushes self-confessed “down-tuned psychedelic rock”, currently featuring guitarist/vocalist Pete Pete Hamilton-Giles and drummer Carolyn Hamilton-Giles. Admittedly, the use of ‘psychedelic’ would often have (personally) connotations of jeopardising heaviness for experimentalism. This, thankfully, is far from the truth, as the two-track album (both tracks around the 20-minute mark) balances the two nicely.
“Maleficia Lamia” starts as an absolute fuzz-monster with an incredibly thick guitar tone, only to pull back to a clean sound with building drums, soon settling into an old-school doom/stoner sound – just imagine a more hazed Saint Vitus and Black Sabbath. There are a few very brief moments where falsetto is used; which was odd to hear at first, but really does fit the atmosphere of the groove in those parts.
The song drops into a reverbed stride, hinting at a shoegaze influence with its layers upon layers of guitar that move in and out of the track as cymbals set the tempo, eventually dropping out of the phase and into birdsong and clean guitar… yes, you read right: birdsong. The vocals are a much clearer during this phase and sound very similar to Humanfly’s John Sutcliffe.
“Grave Cardinal” begins very much in a post-rock/ambient style, easily mistakable as something Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Grouper would do, however the darkness creeps in before the fuzzy bass appears in the mix, before retreating into an Om sense of mythical jams.
Despite the use of the extreme fuzzy tone the track generally feels lighter than the first; but it’s not a negative at all. It’s just straight-up stoner jams and grooves. However, there are some sudden changes that feel disjointed and unnatural, which disturbs the flow that’s pretty vital in doom/sludge bands. It’s a minor complaint here though because they’re not exactly tragedies in this case, but do just sort of sound wrong.
“Maleficia Lamia” is set for release on the 18th March, and it is well worth checking out if you’re into stoner rock that has a good balance between prolonged ambient sections and riffing.
Three Thrones – Three Thrones
Three Thrones are the only purely instrumental of these select releases, and they don’t half make up for the lack of vocals. The English band are adequately made up of three guys: Simon Rollo on guitars, Ian Neal on bass and Ben Harris on drums; and the band list the likes of Bongripper, Taint and the (very underrated) Capricorns as influences – which are pretty clear in their progressive doom-ridden music.
Three Thrones is a twisted album of heavy and catchy jams after jams after jams. The band progresses so many times in each song, you soon forget how the beginning of each track started as. The band doesn’t take itself too seriously either which sees the band taking song directions into unpredictable turns.
The first track “Fresh Prints” starts with a huge wall of distortion and rabidly played drums before the guitar settles in with a very profound Black Sabbath-sounding riff; both in tone and in style. However the band kicks into a faster pace as the guitar leads into a skippy riff that’s sometimes slowed into a heavy groove; which should excite any sludge enthusiast.
“Solar Bear” sounds like the fucked-up-on-alcohol mutant brother to both City Of Echoes-era Pelican and Rated R Queens Of The Stone Age, feeling both heavy and flirtily tongue-in-cheek. The band follows this sorta spaced-out mid-paced riff which sounds like a darker version of the QOTSA’s “Auto Pilot”. “Black Kraken” has some delicious drumming on it, as well as some downright tasty guitar solos and licks – the track is just downright heavy and the Bongripper influence shines the brightest on here.
“Three Thrones” is a monster. It’s as simple as that. Even if you’re only a little bit into doom or sludge metal, you’ll be a fool not to give this album a chance. I honestly can’t see these guys staying unsigned for long.
Earthmass – Ancients
Earthmass are yet another band hailing from England, this time a four-man project with Chris Haughton on guitar and vocals, Chris Saunders on guitar, Rob Saunders on bass and Jack Burley on drums and vocals. Together they bring a spacious jam-orientated style of sludge, sitting on the more modern, cleaner sound of the genre – if you like the melodic textures of Devil Sold His Soul, then this band is for you.
“Ancients” is a lone, 8-minute track that stands as an introduction to their new material, which goes back in time as an epilogue to their previous release Lunar Dawn. For the most part, the song elevates in a soft, melodic space despite the deep, bouncing bass. The drums float at a slow-mid pace as clean vocals soar over the top, stretching out the lyrics “Whispered poisonous words / Capture the minds of two Kings / Wizards behind the eyes / Greed is letting them in.” The band then proceeds to mellow out even further for a good while afterwards.
The band does introduce some heavier segments, most notably about three-quarters through as the guitars come in forcefully after a slow building of tension from the drums. Unlike the previous releases mentioned, there isn’t a bone-crushingly heavy sound with these guys, and so they make up for it by playing with tension and pace, which they masterfully do so.
If you’re a big fan of the mellower sides of Isis and Devil Sold His Soul, then this track should sit pretty well for you.