by Casey Boland

"Sludge" evokes certain sounds and images: dudes with beards hammering out power-chord metal at a snail's pace. Raise the Red Lantern's musicians indeed have facial hair; they certainly know their way around a meaty, Blue Cheer-worthy riff. While so many bands currently tread water in this genre, Raise the Red Lantern transcend its stylistic banalities.

RTRL are devotees of the progressive Mastodon approach. They outplay dudes who've been at this much longer and with more notoriety. Guitarists Kris Milkent and Dylan Patterson boast dueling melodies of unique riffs, demonstrated on excellent opener "Ritual." Perhaps the band's mastery of this sound should be a forgone conclusion since most of its membership creates the Emperor cabinet line common in contemporary sludge bands.

Since this is the band's sophomore effort (and first with superb drummer Jim Staffel), I can forgive a few missteps. "Awaken" gets points for tuneful vocals, yet they so closely resemble those on Baroness' newer offerings that it sounds like a Blue Record outtake. The vocals could use some variation. The monochromatic wailing over the course of the album grates. Instead of adding color, they hang like yellowed wallpaper. Yet those criticisms aren't enough to mar my enjoyment of this remarkable record.

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