Metal oriented split releases are great, especially when they feature a couple of cult bands that share a similar musical root. The 2015 split between Cult of Luna and the lesser known Old Wind was interesting, and especially so considering Old Wind absolutely trounced the band most people would have bought the release to hear. Better yet, the 2018 split between Slomatics and Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard achieved the same fate: after years of championing sludge and doom riffs, Ireland’s finest were outshone at almost every turn by the amusingly named Welsh upstarts. It was a release that no doom lovers should be without and one that proved that Mammoth Weed’s moment of glory had truly come.
A split between Into The Storm and Smooth Sailing is a natural phenomenon. Both bands have a similar approach to heaviness yet have their own style, so it’s easy to favour one over the other. Also – and perhaps this is the deal clincher here – Like Melvins and Fantomas, there’s some crossover with regard to band members. This EP is also a good way to get some previously unheard material out to both long standing fans and new listeners alike.
First up are two intense workouts by Into The Storm. ‘Murder Murder Murder’ opens the split with a ridiculously heavy riff – a sound of sludge metal colliding with European black metal that gives the repeated skull crusher a relentless and very cold edge. Under this insanely heavy and repetitious pounding, a gravelled vocal fights its way through the noise. Imagine the heaviest works of Mastodon reworked by German extremists Zeit with a flourish of Melvins’ Buzz Osborne and you’d only be halfway towards working out how heavy the most intense parts of this track actually are. Expect no solos. Expect very little deviation, save for half a verse that dabbles with a sparse gothic-ness. Do expect music that’s capable of heart stopping ferocity delivered so brazenly you’d wonder why Into The Storm are so angry. Make no mistake, of course, if it’s a riff you crave then this track has the potential to be at least eight kinds of awesome.
Even with such an awesome start, the mysteriously titled ‘So How Do You Explain All The Dead Unicorns’ is superior in many ways. Into The Storm retain the massive riffs from before, but also temper them with quieter arty passages which in turn serve to make the heavy parts heavier still. It’s fair to say that if the overbearing, throat-killing shouts don’t do it for you then you’re unlikely to make it to the occasional hazier elements, but you’d be missing out. The quieter bits of this number are truly fantastic: the band trade the growls for Sonic Youth-esque spoken passages and place those against atonal sludge riffs to accentuate the arty stance. Into The Storm’s favoured sledgehammer of doom is still being wielded with glee, however, and really comes into its own during an all too short instrumental coda, but it’s incredible to think that these glimpses of a Sonic Youth jamming with Melvins informed musical universe still don’t derail this band’s search for the ultimate riff. Needless to say, if you liked Into The Storm previously, then these two numbers will be essential listening.
On the flipside, Smooth Sailing have a far more melodic core. In fact, there are moments of ‘Timmy’s Phone Number’ that tease with an almost funky groove. With cleaner guitars, you can really lose yourself in a busy multi-layered sound that blends alt-rock from the likes of forgotten bands like Skiploader with a much heavier edge. For those hoping it’ll get more raucous, a deep growl of a voice is happy to oblige, sounding at odds with the music and yet – perhaps due to the complexity – an oddly natural fit at the same time. ‘Stevie Ray Oiye’ follows suit with another intense mix of heavy riffs jostling with edgy alternative, except here, a longer playing time allows more of a flow. Always churning a math rock sound, the guitar work is amazing throughout and the eventual emergence of a sound that appears to be a heady combination that sounds like Mastodon’s Brent Hinds fronting the UK’s cult art-rock heroes The Fierce And The Dead. In short, it’s amazing; it might take a couple of spins to really take hold but when it does, it really does.
In a slight change of mood, ‘Ryler Tomo’ opens with a superb stoner riff followed by twin guitars. Almost as quickly as it arrives, it’s gone…and something heavier emerges. During the next minute, Smooth Sailing don’t so much challenge the audience but each other for dominance, increasing the use of erratic bass drum pedal and frenzied guitar, before everyone finally finds that something that sounds like a battle of wills between Fu Manchu and Sick of It All. The twin lead riff eventually appears, almost to signify we’ve come full circle, but honestly, in terms of heavy and arty metal, this has to be heard to be believed. Finally, as if they’re done with being clever, the band bow out with ‘Hey Girl Egg Roll Dave Grohl’, an intense number that starts off like something from the Dillinger Escape Plan back catalogue, but eventually morphs into a melodic and slightly haunting workout dominated by shuffling drums and ringing guitars. They throw in a slow doom riff for good measure along the way, giving the impression that this started life as three different sketches, but it works. …And with those ringing guitars slowly increasing in volume until everything drops into a sudden and jarring silence, Smooth Sailing bow out in a rather striking way.
This split release is brilliant. By the end of Into The Storm’s aural assault, there’s a feeling their pair of numbers won’t be beaten. However, with a mix of art, tightness and sheer chutzpah, Smooth Sailing are victorious. Without wanting to labour a point, their contributions are bloody amazing… If you like a crushing riff or six, you’ll love Into The Storm. If quirky ideas fashioned into riffs floats your boat, in Smooth Sailing you might find a new favourite band. Regardless of which side of the musical fence you’re on, you need this EP. If you’re lucky enough to enjoy both (very different) bands then this split borders on being essential. It’s a win-win.