DOPETHRONE – Broke Sabbath

In the pre-release press materials for ‘Broke Sabbath’, Canadian sludge metallers Dopethrone referred to the album’s material as having gone “full on ‘Volume 4’…”, and although the band aren’t working in a pure doom genre, in terms of intensity, it’s possible to see what they mean. Sort of, at least. Back in ’72, Sabbath’s fourth album was their most uncompromising to date, and by association, one of the heaviest albums to date from metal’s first wave. Although far sludgier, the best material here certainly has the same relentless quality that tracks like ‘Wheels of Confusion’ would have conveyed decades earlier. Without quibbling too much over a difference in style, whichever way you slice it, this is an album that takes its art to the absolute extreme.

Most “sludge” bands like to approach their riffs with a slow, almost funereal intent. That’s not always the case with Dopethrone. On this record’s frankly insane opener ‘Life Kills You’, they take the heaviness of your typical sludge workout and play it back at almost thrash speed, resulting in a groove laden, distorted workout that delivers massively in terms of neck-snapping riffs. It’s like hearing Orange Goblin played back by the Rob Zombie band circa 1999, and through a wall of blown amps. The distortion on the guitars and bass is so great, it resorts in the lead break sounding like a half buried buzz supplied by a punk ‘n’ roll band, and the vocal being an almost inaudible grumble. Since the vocal is heavily affected and makes it sound like Dopethrone are fronted by an actual goblin, this actually works out for the best. And when you think things just couldn’t get any more intense/absolutely scary, the middle eight opts for a more trad-based doom sound, which shows off the band’s heaviest side with ease. Even with an opinion dividing vocal, its the kind of track that extreme metal fans will love, and it sets a great precedent for the rest of the album.

Equally intense, but a lot slower, ‘Sultans of Sins’ opens with a wall of noise, before descending into a really oppressively sludgy riff. It’s so distorted, there’s no real separation between the instruments, and to make things more insane, the bridge sections between the verses crank up the bass so much that Dopethrone merely become purveyors of pure sludge. There’s a small amount of respite when a Sabbathy riff fills the instrumental break midway. Not that this is in any way lighter, but the slower riffs allow for a slightly more spacious feel. Just in case this is in any way seen as being too predictable – or even, bizarrely, too commercial in pure doom terms – the rest of the number offsets any notion of the track being vaguely accessible by sharing one of the most obtuse vocals ever. The growl from ‘Life Kills You’ is still present, but delivered at an even slower speed and a deeper tone, it makes the number sound positively demonic.

For the most part, the bulk of ‘Broke Sabbath’ falls between these two extremes, but continues to give sludge fans a fairly frightening experience. Another highlight, ‘Truckstop Warlock’ sounds like something from Melvins’ ‘Stoner Witch’ played back from a cassette deck on low batteries. The main riffs are incredibly dirty, bringing out the best in both a fuzzy bass and buzzing guitar sound – both delivering massive, sludgy riffs which move between the funereal and groove-oriented with ease – right until everything gets cranked up by another four notches on the band’s volume-o-meter and everyone powers through several bars of distorted noise. At the point you think everything will reach a natural end, Dopethrone descend into the ultimate doom groove. This number is the audio equivalent of wading through a swamp in lead boots, and almost certainly for genre fans only…but they’ll have a blast, assuming they’re internal organs haven’t imploded under the sheer force of the distortion after a couple of minutes.

Keeping a very close grip on a similar heaviness, ‘Schlaghammer’ works another doom-sludge hybrid where the buzz of the distortion almost becomes an instrument in its own right, whilst another retching vocal increases the all round ugliness. Proving they aren’t working to a strict formula, however, a few slower moments add more of a doomy feel, and the second half of the number works the snare drums into a sledgehammer like fury. Although it doesn’t actually lighten the mood, a clean-ish lead guitar break that’s far more of the Iommi school of playing ensures this track feels very different, and occasionally flaunts with more of a melody, without much of a concession to anything that’s actually melodic. Despite a hint of something a little more palatable, In keeping with the rest of this record, the heavy moments are still ridiculously so, ensuring that sludge fiends will not be disappointed, whilst ‘Rock Slock’ fuses the sludgy sound with a driving rhythm. This results in something that sounds like a classic Motorhead tune fronted by a vocalist who favours an extreme/black metal rasp. The combination of sounds is immense, especially when swathes of fuzzy bass force their way into what passes as a chorus. In terms of melody, though, it’s great to hear a cleaner lead guitar occasionally piercing its way through the swamp. In case the brief melodies are in danger of making Dopethrone sound too lightweight, this track also comes with a slow, doomy middle eight and coda, just to make sure the purists are kept onside. Overall, with a combination of extreme heaviness and a superb groove, this is a contender for the album’s best track.

‘Broke Sabbath’ marks the end of a six year silence from Dopethrone, and they’re not approaching their return half heartedly. Despite featuring just seven songs, this is hard to absorb for any more than two tracks at a time. The band’s material was always intense, but this comes with off the chart levels of anger throughout. The sludge comes with a speaker breaking distortion; the doomy riffs almost reach similar head crushing nastiness. In pure heaviness terms, ‘Broke Sabbath’ is the kind of record that makes Weedeater and Conan seem “a bit soppy”. Stream it, buy it, borrow it; whatever your preference, if you’re a half committed sludge fiend, you owe it to yourself to hear this, whatever it takes – but crank it at your own peril.

May 2024