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Born Too Late #5: A Diamond Age of Doom, Sludge, and Stoner Metal

Illustration by Emily McCafferty
Illustration by Emily McCafferty

Welcome back to these riff-filled lands. Two years ago, I decided to start this Born Too Late column to filter through the myriad releases in the stoner, doom, and sludge subgenres and find the hidden gems. Big riffs and beards were already reaching max capacity at that point, but if anything, the scene has grown larger: more bands, more albums, and much more chaff than wheat.

What I thought might have changed — but hasn’t, as innumerable social media comment threads have shown — is that the quality output might start reaching a larger rock audience. Sludge and more extreme doom might be too intense for a casual listener, but at this point stoner rock and metal is the new classic rock. The bands that fill the rosters of labels like Ripple Music, Small Stone, Heavy Psych Sounds, and Magnetic Eye hew the closest to the bell-bottomed godfathers so many of our Sketchy Uncles and Classic Dads still worship.

But what’s the constant refrain? “There’s no good rock ‘n roll anymore.” Three minutes of Internet research would emphatically prove that wrong, but perhaps that is too much to ask. However, let us not dwell on the ignorance of others, but rather bask in the glow of that which the rock gods have bestowed upon us. Lemmy be praised.

Godsleep
Coming Of Age
November 26th, 2018

On their second full-length, Greek quartet Godsleep go for a bigger, hook-laden approach to their songwriting. Tracks like “Unlearn” and “N.O.U.” stomp and groove, recalling Freedom Hawk and desert fuzz OGs Kyuss. Singer Amie Makris has a 1990s alt-rock vibe to her voice, which gives the songs a unique texture. The nuanced “Karma is a Kid” smoothly transitions from bluesy and meditative to the album’s biggest jam. “Celestial” gives guitarist John Tsoumas an opportunity to show off his impressive solo chops; he is an organic player, in the sense that his arrangements reflect the inherent knowledge of what makes a good blues-based rock song work. Coming Of Age is not just a collection of decent riffs thrown into a pedal board (as fun as that can be, from time to time), but rather a confident and deliberately paced arrangement. Great albums are like great stories — there’s a beginning, middle and end.

Wardehns
Now Cometh The Foul
December 21st, 2018

The word that repeatedly comes to mind when listening to Now Cometh The Foul is big. Whether it’s the epic build that defines album opener “Crustacean” or drummer Thomas Sorbet’s caveman style, everything this Wisconsin trio serves up is massive. It’s sludge that remembers its hardcore punk roots and puts them on blast, injecting every passage with a kinetic energy that many of their peers desperately need. “Denim Dogs” is a clarion call to every battle-vested lifer, the stench of cheap beer and questionable decisions practically wafting from the speakers as it unfurls with the burliest of riffs. High on Fire is the most obvious reference point, but Wardehns prefer things a bit grimier. There’s more than just sludge, too: bassist Brad Beilke’s funky intro to “Gills,” the crossover thrash found in “Shards of the Time Glass,” and the clean melodic lines found in closer “Stench of the Gnorthe” all prove the band is more than a one-trick pony. In an age where bands that take time to find their groove are left by the wayside, Wardehns know exactly who they are and what they need to do, and they do it very well.

Signo Rojo
End of Tether EP
February 15th, 2019

The End of Tether EP serves as both a stopgap for Signo Rojo before the release of a full-length later this year, and a celebration of a decade as a band. This is another example of how the Internet really can be a force for good; otherwise, this exceptionally great sludge/hardcore/choose-your-own-adventure collective from Karlshamn, Sweden would never be known to us. They tread a familiar path, one cleared by earlier incarnations of Mastodon and Baroness, but like those bands they imbue their work with a unique signature. The EP’s title track, as well as its chaser “Breeders,” hit quick and hard with distinct Melvins-isms and some interesting melodic choices. The songs are artfully crafted, with just as much importance placed on the spaced-out noise as on the hooks and melody. The eight-minute “Markvardig” is the big draw here, exploring various tempos and vocal arrangements without sacrificing any vigor or awareness. All four band members have their own distinct parts but also keep the track cohesive to its central idea, making it feel much shorter than it is. Hopefully Signo Rojo can keep that momentum rolling into their upcoming album.

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean
I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory
December 14th, 2018

The name, the titles, the artwork, the left-field cover song choice: one should easily be forgiven for initially assuming this is a Thou cover band. And yes, this is achingly slow, bluesy, sludgy doom that sounds straight out of the Louisiana swamps. But Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean are very much their own entity and have quickly established themselves as a serious force in a crowded scene. This EP begins with what might be the best Devo cover of all time, their classic alien surf jam “Gut Feeling” reworked as a crawling, melancholic dirge. There’s a serious Acid Bath vibe halfway through, something lesser bands might not even think of, never mind pull off. Choosing to lead off with an ambitious cover is a bold move, and it pays off here. The two original tracks, “With Every Wrist Outstretched” and “And Every Sword Unsheathed,” are more rote in their approach to the apocalyptic doom aesthetic, but their dynamics and structure are outside the box enough to put them up in the ranks with Full of Hell and, yes, Thou in the pantheon of bands that can’t be pigeonholed by one genre tag.

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