SLOMATICS – Strontium Fields

With their slow and uncompromisingly heavy sound, Slomatics have become one of the best-loved bands from the UK sludge metal scene. They’ve faced stiff competition from the likes of Morag Tong and Conan, but the Slomatics brand has remained the most interesting. They can do heavy, but unlike some of their peers, they can also serve up great, dark atmospheres that sound lighter musically, but convey just as much doom. In short, if you want intense riffs, the Slomatics will rarely let you down.

Their 2023 release ‘Strontium Fields’ has the potential to be one of their finest albums. Not only does it bring those classic Slomatics riffs, but its focus on relatively short tracks makes it more palatable than a lot of other sludge metal fare out there. In addition, this time around, there’s even more variety within the weighty noise, resulting in the kind of album that more adventurous doom and sludge devotees will love.

‘Wooden Satellites’ sets out the band’s intentions very clearly when it opens with a brief drone, followed by a Sabbath-esque riff, slowed for some extra weight. The power in the funereal riff is immense, but don’t let that put you off, as there are some brilliant dark and gothic melodies cutting through the wall of sludge. Firstly, a second guitar throws out a higher tone in contrast with the massive distortion, which has the effect of tempering the pure sludge with a hint of darkwave moodiness, and a clean vocal takes everything a little further towards the desert rock end of the spectrum. There’s also a quiet interlude here where some well played toms suggest something more epic trying to escape, but it all comes together with a brilliant climax when the Sabbathy weightiness gives way to a heavy gothic melody, before a slowing of riffs and rumble of drums brings everything to a close. …And if that greets your ears favourably, the rest of the album will not sell you short on heavy entertainment.

An album highlight, ‘I, Neanderthal’ opens with a slow, heavy riff punctuated by a crack of snare, instantly signifying something with immense power. The way the guitars driving the verse have been underscored with a blanket of darkwave synths is a musical master-stroke, balancing the heavy edge with something cold yet inviting. Then almost as if to keep Slomatics from being too accessible, Marty lets out a huge wail, and throughout the track, his vocals stay on the good side of challenging, whilst sounding as if they’re bleeding through from a different room. The whole sequence repeats, and in doing so, ensures this track’s massive doom laden riffs really make an impression, but in true Slomatics tradition, for those keeping a closer ear, there’s a little more interest when the doom shifts into something gothic, allowing Marty’s drums a little more room. Overall, it’s one of those numbers that manages to show off the band’s full range in one handy hit. If you’ve missed Slomatics previously, this would make a decent introduction.

Providing a short interlude and a pause for reflection, ‘Zodiac Arts Lab’ places a clean, indie like guitar against a crooned vocal. It’s as far from the typical Slomatics sound as you’ll find, but with everything doused in reverb, the track still comes with an ominous feel, as well as a strong hint that it’s leading to something huge…and sure enough, following a very quiet intro (possibly designed to make the listener reach for the volume knob), ‘ARCS’ hits with a brutally heavy riff. Here, Slomatics revert to a pure doom sound that allows David and Chris plenty of room to lock down a very slow, sludge-laden groove. The muddy guitar sound provides a perfect base for a second guitar to add a soaring counter melody, with a distorted howl, whilst Marty loses himself in a particularly forlorn sounding vocal. At the mid point, everything shifts sideways to allow for an even slower, heavier riff, and a swirl of feedback adds an extra layer of noise to some brilliantly pure doom. It’s so good, it’s actually disappointing when the last riffs get faded out at just shy of five minutes; this is very much the kind of Slomatics jam that could’ve been stretched to the full ten for maximum impact and still feel very natural. As it is, though, it’s still superb, and easily one of the album’s essential tracks.

Opening with a riff that’s pure Slomatics, ‘Like A Kind of Minotaur’ wields a repetitious chug, sounding like an old Electric Wizard number in bigger boots, before dropping into a slower, doomier riff, contrasted by a space rock drone. Switching between the two riffs gives this number a massive musical base, but the most impressive riffs come during a middle section where the doomy sounds are joined by an epic drone shared between the guitars and keys. In a world full of doom riffs, this shows how the Slomatics – now a band with veteran status – are still among the scene’s finest riff lords. Taking their slower riffs to extremes, ‘With Dark Futures’ explores some great funeral doom sounds without shifting too far from the kind of riffs fans have come to expect. It’s merely a case of the band moving into something even slower, which gives Chris and David more room for manoeuvre. As expected, their command of the intense is shared with the utmost clarity, whilst Marty’s drums thud out an almost painfully slow beat. In some ways, it’s as if the album has been building up to this uncompromising slab of noise, but in others, it’s fair to say that ‘Strontium Fields’ offers more interesting takes on the heavy, genre defining sound. Whichever way you approach it, though, there’s no mistaking the band’s sheer commitment to a riff.

With other bands taking the Slomatics’ influence and using it in interesting ways, the Northern Irish band have had to keep pushing forward to stay on top, and the best bits of ‘Strontium Fields’ present some of their most interesting sounds to date. Is it the kind of record that’ll appeal to first time listeners? Sort of; in a world where the mighty riff is all, the Slomatics sludge has always been about a devastatingly heavy sound over obvious hooks, and on that front, this is a record that doesn’t disappoint. However, a bigger concession to melody on a few of its huge sounding workouts helps this heavy beast feel a little more approachable, which hopefully will extend the Slomatics’ cult of followers and fanatics. As for those dyed in the wool fans, there’s plenty within these eight tracks that’ll bring the kind of heavy thrills those guys have come to expect. If they can accept a (very slightly) more commercial edge in places (and it’s very slight), ‘Strontium Fields’ has the potential to become the best loved Slomatics work to date. A highly recommended listen.

August/September 2023