Lifespan of a Moth

Somewhere between their zillionth rhythm section reshuffle and signing to Relapse, Cali sludge lifers 16 managed to make their best album since reforming almost a decade ago. Sludge has come, gone and come back with a vengeance in the twenty-plus years since legendary debut Curves That Kick, and Lifespan Of A Moth arrives just as the subgenre (among many others in the metal realm) is reaching its nadir. Building on stellar previous effort Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds, 16 returned to longtime engineer Jeff Forrest to craft an array of feel-bad hits for the summer that will undoubtedly crush any and all posers.

If there's any doubt what listeners are in for, (somehow still living) vocalist Cris Jerue puts that to rest with the first lines of opener "Landloper": "Welcome to your fate!/ It's a nightmare with a massive thirst to flee". Crushing despair and nihilistic black humor have been 16's lyrical bread and butter from the beginning, and Lifespan delivers in spades. In the brilliantly titled "Peaches, Cream and the Placenta" Jerue bellows, "Stricken incessant cries/ Your lying might get him baptized/ Nurture blackened bloodline" while on closing track "George" he ponders: " We’re taking it up a notch/Give me the larry fine/Why can’t I have a heart attack?".

A delivery so pitch black and idiosyncratic won't have the same impact without a solid musical base, so it's a good thing that founding guitarist Bobby Ferry has always been the perfect counterpoint to Jerue's output. World-crushing riffs with just enough and groove and thrash to keep things moving are Ferry's specialty. First single "The Absolute Center Of A Pitch Black Heart" is an up-tempo rager showcasing Ferry's playing chops while the following instrumental track, "Gallows Humor", highlights his songwriting ability. Newcomers Barney Firks (bass) and Dion Thurman (drums) slip right into 16's dark musical recesses; they might be the band's best rhythm players since the Drop Out/Blaze Of Incompetence era.

It's fitting that 16 have made a home at Relapse, considering the bands that formed in their wake (Mastodon, Black Tusk, Red Fang) all got their big breaks with the label. But Lifespan is not just another good sludge album; it's a fundamentally stellar one, it's the best one of 2016 so far, and it should put all bearded drop-tuners on alert. Time to step it up or move out of the way.

—Chris Rowella



Lifespan Of A Moth is out today via Relapse Records. Follow the band on Facebook and Twitter.