It takes a band like Slugdge, one with a concept revolving around interstellar slugs, to remind you how different music history would be if a stream was always just a click away.

Decades ago, you'd have to be pretty dedicated to follow-up on something like Slugdge, because anything written about the Kev Pearson (guitar) and Matt Moss (vocals) project would imply tossed off gimmickry. Even if the praise heaped on the duo was effusive, that name and that concept would create a mental block: this probably isn't an album I'd spin more than once. So, in the era of print, when first impressions were all you had to go on before allocating your allowance, obscurity would be Slugdge's only destination. Yet when you actually play Slugdge's second album Gastronomicon, you're treated to one of the better death metal albums of the year. It's part Carcass, part Demilich, part Edge of Sanity, part Arcturus. It's well-composed, well-produced, and, believe it or not, well-written. It's the total package. And it's about slugs. Who would've guessed? Well, anyone listening.

Pearson and Moss relish that you might've passed them by based solely on their surface elements. In fact, that might be what drives them to their highest highs. Gastronomicon is a restless riff metropolis and each one seems like Pearson is rewarding you for sticking with him. He has a knack for infusing the extreme with the catchy without compromising either property, similar to the compositional wizardry of Jeff Walker and Bill Steer. But Pearson and Moss are not content to just dabble in death metal. Slugdge collect a lot of puzzle pieces and they work like hell to ensure each section fits snugly between the others. As an example, Moss often ditches death metal growls for the holler of progressive black metallers like ICS Vortex or Kvohst, but those deviations don't disorient due to the way Slugdge build up and break down the sections. Indeed, Gastronomicon flows. Hell, it glides. It sounds so effortless because Slugdge have worked so hard to make it so.

That said, the prime component here is 'fun.' Gastronomicon is one of the rare death metal records making fine use of its lyric sheet. Through the slug mythos, good songs become great songs: "Invertahate" grabs a club from Meshuggah's bag and swings a world-ending riff as its closer. Stuff like that is a blast, but hearing Moss growl, "Rhaexorog the lord of all, protector of what lies beyond/the greatest of the chosen ones, anointed of the netherslugs," is what you pay the 'name your price' to hear. It's absurd in the way the best death metal tends to be. After all, most death metal topics are ridiculous. The good bands find a way to create their own 45-minute universes where everything sounds logical and compelling, where everything clicks, no matter how batshitty the themes end up looking out of context.

In the end, it's up to you whether you give Slugdge a chance -- granted, words are still tough to swallow, tweets even more so -- but one hopes you sip the slime of Mollusca the Greatfather and find your way into Slugdge's alternate reality. All it takes is clicking play, and that's a hell of a lot easier to accomplish these days.

— Ian Chainey



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