|Oh, MC Skat Kat, a weary nation desperately needs your wisdom.|
Both grind and sludge place a premium on extremity without belaboring the songwriting with a ton of wanking. Instead, the goal is to flatten you with brute force, an object lesson in victory through superior firepower. More than that, grind and sludge also share a jaundiced sensibility. Both trade in cynical broadsides against all that’s venal and corrupt, cataloging a litany of misery, mayhem and misanthropy.
If you haven’t taken the sludge plunge yet, here are a handful of bands and their up tempo counterparts that will get you stumbling your way through the fractured pavement of modern sludge’s moral and physical decay.
Angels and Demons
It takes “20,000 Tonnes of Machinery to Smash Matter,” per the Halo song. I’m guessing most of that went to powering Skye Klein’s Godzilla-sized bass rig. That’s the only way to explain the tectonic rumble he was able to generate as he and drummer Robert Allen brought down the hammer of gods and cracked the crust of Pangea. Halo’s industrial grade sludge was the oily residue that remained after early Swans careened straight into the maw of Godflesh at a Throbbing Gristle show. There are hallucinations lurking inside the Skye’s slowly quivering strings as he gives his compositions the legroom to stretch out and fill the spaces between notes. The only adjective that adequately describes Halo is heavy and there we hit the limits of English’s descriptive power to capture the gut-rumbling intensity lurking in their five albums of abstract mastery.
Recommended for fans of Jesus of Nazareth
North Carolina burnouts Facedowninshit took the southern crust punk sound and staggered it out of the ’90s, forcing it to crawl over broken glass for our amusement. Dragging the punk out to its down tempo breaking point, Facedowninshit stumbled their way through the destitution and dismay that captured the downtrodden life of a kid scraping by on the streets. You may not have had to sell blood to get by like in “Plasma Center Blues,” but Facedowninshit’s pessimism and despair hit universal themes of depression. Facedowninshit aren’t going to lie and tell you everything will get better because sometimes shit just happens and you get no recourse, but they can sympathize with you when you’re trapped in the well of your own depression.
Recommended for fans of His Hero is Gone
Burmese’s sexualized violence is horrific to behold. And they just bludgeon you with their relentless negativity to the sound of two drummers, two bassists and a whole fractured psyche of barely repressed violence. If Burmese can’t crush you emotionally, they’ll flatten you sonically. It’s a perfect marriage of attitude and execution as they shove your face in the worst aspects of humanity and ask you to really contemplate just what the fuck that means for the failure of the species and whether it deserves to survive. It’s shocking, provocative and wrapped up in a blistering sludge package that’s damn affecting and borderline catchy. There are riffs and moments here that will haunt you just as much as the lyrics.
Recommended for fans of early Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Death Becomes You
Accept Death somehow manage to capture the sound of a city so grim and polluted it once set its river on fire. It’s probably less of a surprise when you realize the Cleveland band features a bevy of heavyweights culled from Fistula, Hemdale and Die Hard (plus a cameo by Apartment 213’s Steve Makita). It’s not just that Accept Death’s music is relentless in its ugliness as they wallow in murder, suicide and other violence outbursts, but the band expertly interweaves movie samples that evoke domestic violence, domination and emotional manipulation, giving their songs an uncomfortable voyeuristic edge. Accept Death are the Blue Velvet of sludge. It’s like listening to your asshole neighbor beat the shit out of his wife every night and not having the nerve to call the cops.
Recommended for fans of Apartment 213
I'm Not Not Licking Toads
Toadliquor are so black and bleak that they make Grief sound like a fucking Sesame Street segment. There were no sunny days sweeping away the ever present glower that gloomed these Washington nihilists. Plodding, noisy and excoriating, Toadliquor trafficked in psychedelic layers of scraping feedback that flayed your mind one micron at a time. Both grind and sludge get by on grumbling about the varied miseries of the world but very few sound as genuinely cheesed off about it as Toadliquor. This is pure fucking hostility slowed down to a nightmare vision of a murderer chasing you, implacable, inevitable and moving so deliberately that you get to savor every second of horror.
Recommended for fans of Anaal Nathrakh
Where’s the Beef?
To the extent that anybody seems to remember Wellington it’s in the context of Ryan Butler and Mike Bjella’s first collaboration before both stomped off to Unruh. (For obvious reasons let’s all just ignore the fact that the drummer later ended up in Powerman 5000. We all agree to that? Cool.) But that’s shortchanging a pretty solid sludge outfit that didn’t troll through cast off doom metal so much as melt down ingots of early ’90s metallic hardcore into lumpen, distorted effigies of crawling punk animosity. It’s skatecore for kids so warped from sniffing glue behind their high school they can barely stand a deck any more. But like the punks they were, and in direct contrast to too many sludge acts, Wellington also knew how to keep it tight and punchy so the impact of their repeated blows wasn’t diluted through overuse.
Recommended for fans of Unruh
There’s a reason Florida gets its own Fark tag. America’s wang has a hard won reputation as a sordid swamp of astounding idiocy that somehow encompasses Carl Hiassen and Disney World on one end and Trayvon Martin’s shooting and the 2000 presidential election clusterfuck on the other. That kind of cultural chaos is bound to refracted back by its warped musical subculture. Enter Cavity, the leading lights of that all too short list of punks who found inspiration in Side B of Black Flag’s My War and made a career out of punk tunes that traded punch and pique for girth and crazy noise. It’s a supercollider of scraping crash and humid sweat all festering into sun-blanched rage.
Recommended for fans of thedowngoing
Long before there was J.R. Hayes, there was Dax Riggs. Along with Eyehategod, Acid Bath helped establish NOLA sludge and Riggs was its master raconteur. Digging deep from the city’s gothic roots and modern legacy of horror, Riggs married his bandmates’ downbeat glower with tales of violence, both physical and emotional. But the dripping meat hook behind the songs, amazing sludge rumble aside, is Riggs’ astounding gift to peel back his skull just for you and unleash a voodoo thrall of imagery and narrative, weaving psychedelic tales of murder and mayhem in a way that’s far more pointed than any number of gorehounds’ pointless horror flick rehash could ever aspire to achieve. Acid Bath gave us two perfect albums of slow motion homicide anchored in lyrics that have knocked on literature’s door.
Recommended for fans of Pig Destroyer