It’s East vs. West on this sludge metal face-off from Doom Fujiyama Records when Japan’s own Abiuro go head to head with New York riff beasts False Gods. Two of the scene’s heaviest bands together on one release automatically ensures a doomy delight, but the stakes are even higher when both acts turn in some of their most immense riffs to date.

False Gods may be familiar to doom fans from a pre-lockdown age. Their brilliant EP ‘The Serpent & The Ladder’ showed how well classic doom and sludge riffs could be tempered by occasional sheet of black metal coldness to bring an almost arty slant to their crushing sound. The two tracks featured here demonstrate different angles to their heavy sound, but are no less brilliant. Their massively enjoyable ‘Time Poisoning’ kicks off with a spooky, almost clean barrage of notes paving the way for something that sounds like a horror film score, but is quickly overtaken the kind of riff that sounds like Cathedral taking everything at a crawl, which, naturally, shows the Gods in their natural environment. Latching onto more of a groove, a really punchy drum sound powers the verse in a way that delivers a classic post-Sabbath doom sound peppered with more of a hardcore crunch, whilst a dual vocal battles it out between a demonic, metallic growl and a hardcore tinged screech. These occasional nods to hardcore make False Gods more interesting than your average doom act, and as the track progresses, those keeping a closer ear will spot the welcome return of the colder guitar tones bringing an epic, almost progressive touch and some deftly played bass fills. At the point where the track could’ve reached a natural dramatic end, it’s all change to introduce something that’s best described as a jig played by a hardcore band which, again, suggests someone in the ranks has some quirky ideas, before dropping back to the main riff which naturally sounds slower and heavier after such a detour. It’s a hugely varied riff based romp, with a lot packed into a relatively short direction and, as such, fans will welcome False Gods’ return.

‘0% Success Rate’, meanwhile, teases with a bit of drone before exploding into a hardcore banger that doesn’t have anything in common with the doom and sludge you’re probably expecting. Taken at speed, the scratchy vocals make more sense and could probably sustain an entire track, but in true False Gods style, this is far more complex, and there’s time for some slow, doomy riffs coupled with a growling voice along the way. Eventually, a heavily distorted sludge riff that brings out the best in an array of distortion, before experimenting with a doom and hardcore blend that’s as intensive on the vocals as the music itself. The constant jumping between moods without losing any of the heaviness shows how the complex approach on ‘The Serpent & The Ladder’ was no fluke, and in many ways, this takes the New Yorkers to the next level.

False Gods certainly show off a heavy core, but their intensity pales in comparison to Japan’s Abiuro. The two tracks used here as a primer for their work are among some of the most intensive sludge ever captured on record. Their recording style is rather more lo-fi, and this approach brings out the best in a muddy bass sound, as well as allowing for a vocal that’s pure evil. The voice is so deep and buried in the mix during ‘Aprophenia’ that any lyrics are redundant, but to make up for that, a huge sounding bass drum and dirgy guitar work are intent on making fellow Japanese doomers Boris sound like lightweight chancers. After two minutes of this, the listener is in danger of suffering a rupturing of their internal organs, but if you can hang in there for a little longer, you’ll encounter something that sounds like ‘Harmony Corruption’ era Napalm Death playing prog metal on the wrong speed. It’s horrible, yet somehow fascinating – and a cast iron reminder of how Japanese musicians are in a whole different league when it comes to extremes. Ending with a funereal trudge through the slowest sludge riffs ever, this isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s a walk in the park compared to ‘Blind Faith’ which fills five minutes with the purest of sludgy noises, creating a soundscape where most of the riffs are taken at a crawl and the vocal brings more death grunts to the fore in a marriage of pure ugliness. Naturally, some people will love it – and it has to be said, its extreme nature will bring a perverse amusement to even those who aren’t over familiar with sludge metal. It isn’t something you’ll reach for often, but its great to hear a band who are still trying to reach extremes within a genre that can seem somewhat limited.

These four tracks throw the listener face first into a world where the riff is king and a need for a song is secondary, but then, most people won’t be approaching any sludge metal releases for an easy ride or any sort of hummable hook. In terms of dragging the guts of Electric Wizard, Conan and Yanomamo out as much as possible for an experience in extreme slowness, almost every second of Abiuro’s work is in a class of its own, and a willingness to mix things up shows False Gods as one of the leading lights of the metal underground. Sometimes, the material errs on the side of being a little too intense, but this release is still an unmissable treat for sludge fiends everywhere.

March/April 2023