My current relationship with Graveyard favorite, Eyehategod, who kicked off their ambitious Left to Starve tour this week, has stayed in-step with what I had cited after witnessing Mike IX’s triumphant return this past spring — an old hoodie that I can neglect in a pile in the corner for months, one whose familiarity molds into a perfect fit whenever it’s called back to duty. It’s one of those great relationships that you don’t have to work at, but continues to grow nevertheless — so much so that it’s spilled into the way I’ve come to negotiate sludge as a whole.
After a hiatus with the larger breeds of doom and stoner rock as tides started growing increasingly formulaic, I’m happy to say I’ve returned to the sludge pile to find fast favorites — little digging required. Particularly as we all grow tired of oppressive heat that refuses to rest day or night, a soundtrack of moving slowly and ceaselessly through invisible mud is more appropriate than ever. And hell, the sweater metaphor didn’t come from nowhere — I blasted my AC unit and slept in my Rebel Inc. hoodie from 10th grade last night to pretend like it was the autumn evening I’ve been so very much craving.
But perhaps there’s a little more to it than just the weather when it comes to the role of what’s around us. I’ve been considering how very much the shoe was on the other foot during my time overseas in Northern Europe — the likes of Weedeater and Crowbar were being emulated, recreated, and sometimes, blatantly ripped off. Suffice it to say, we’ve committed the same crimes with black metal in the States. Out of self-preservation, I’m going to take the low road and attribute my next statement to something Scott Conner once said, because I know if I put in my own words, there would be plenty out there who would have my head — the best black metal has, and most likely always will, have European roots.
That’s not to say that much of American black metal is not short of fantastic. I’ve seen performances out West that I won’t soon forget. But the States’ secret seems to be that it’s often cut with the spirit of our own tradition — folk, drone, and so on. Otherwise, in the wise words, of my sister, a basic black metal show in Baltimore is made up of Euronymous number six, seven, and eight.
Perhaps it’s not the fault of uninnovative artists, but rather, the inevitability of being products of our own environments. The world of Northern Europe is unique — starkly individualistic in temperament, but steadfastly egalitarian in pragmaticism; a perfect storm out of which traditional black metal could emerge. The United States, on the other hand, starts and ends with starkly individualistic, with safety emerging exclusively out of fleeting bouts of goodwill; a perfect storm out of which sludge…well, I’ll quit Hemingwaying. You get the picture.
In America, there is no room for feeling sorry for yourself, and even less so, others — often to the point of detriment. Otherwise, you’ll just get trampled in the low-speed chase of fighting tooth and nail to survive. It’s about plowing on even when you know the picture of tomorrow will have the identical jagged lines of today. It’s blaming ourselves for our own victimhood, but reveling in its occasional meager reward — for better or for worse, it’s a breeding ground for a subgenre that continues to evolve to a beat as slow as evolution itself.
Black Tomb (New England)
Having made CVLT Nation’s top doom releases of 2k16, Black Tomb has managed to pack a heavy punch since their recent inception. That decisiveness is one of my favorite aspects of doom — you can tell within the first few moments who has a clear point of view to offer and who’s, well, doomed to be forgotten. The key to Black Tomb’s sparkle in the sludge seems to be their willingness to take on something old and something new. Rhythm guitar is quintessentially oppressive but still possesses a good deal of movement, riffs get rocky but don’t get too carried away into the cliché, and vocals take on IX-esque curdledness while trying their hand at the best of the blackened. Although the squad has recently fallen quiet since burning up the spring festival circuit, I remain optimistic that time has been taken to let the heat fall to a smart simmer.
True to its roots, Chrch, formerly known as Church, is no stranger to slugging through adversary just to come out all the stronger on the other side. After being hit with a cease and desist from the band The Church, they very easily could have taken the path of least resistance by choosing to cease to exist. But, instead, they said fuck it, ditched the vowel, and came out with a beloved brand standing alongside the likes of Pallbearer on tour. Overall, name and sound alike conjure a warped, acid-lensed depiction of my experiences with going to church — a vague ritual occurring like white noise while my mind races through decadent day dreams. Perhaps most notably, vocals, which take form in both deep bellows and languid clean singing, are distorted, but never dwelled on, personifying a journey that preys on the ready-or-not school of play — frightening, forward, unapologetic.
No Funeral (Minnesota)
The pride of Live Fast Die, No Funeral leaves nothing to be desired but salvation from ourselves. Misanthrope (2016) wastes no time, callously reminding us that there’s no funeral for addiction. Whether it be well-intended cold turkey or an unwelcomed comedown, wallowing only seems to awaken the pain. But beyond just the emotional, there’s the pragmatic. It’s the waking up after having blacked out just to immediately attend to responsibilities. When you’ve forfeited a night to a morning that’ll not be accommodating to hangover nursing — that’s when you know you’re tumbling down the hold from social to survival. But as No Funeral has conveyed through their highly anticipated split with Livid, something special can form when there’s no time to mourn. Unearthing a great creation from the depths that we thought were vacant…now that’s enough to allow regression from a crumbling ledge, resuscitation of a heart connected to a broken pipeline.