HERON – Empires of Ash

Following a couple of EP releases, Canadian doom/sludge metal merchants Heron found themselves on the roster of bands at the independent Sludgelord Records. The sometime home of Stone Machine Electric, Bible Basher and Coffin Torture, the band would be in good company, and in many ways, associations with such a great label forced them to up their game. Their 2018 LP ‘A Low Winter Sun’ was a masterclass in weighty sounds; its sludge fuelled approach suggested a love of Conan, and it’s purer doom elements drew from Electric Wizard, but for the more finely tuned ear, the record also displayed a strange, deep psych and heavy post rock tone in the guitar work that allowed the extremely heavy sound to appear more cinematic in its own way.

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VARIOUS ARTISTS – A Future Of Bad Men: A Melvins Tribute

Few bands have been more influential to the alternative scene than (the) Melvins. Since their arrival in the early eighties, the noisemakers from Washington have forged an uncompromising musical path which has inspired punk and doom metal bands alike. They’ve encouraged many to twist the elements of rock music into unfathomable shapes. Their early work laid the formations for what many consider “grunge”. Somehow, in the mid 90s, they even managed to score a recording deal with a major label, which inspired them to become even more obtuse, first releasing a single that had a lyric in a made up language (‘Hooch’) and promote a slightly later release with a track that included a drawling vocal, a sludge metal riff and an atonal jazz solo played on the trombone. Even more bizarrely, that single (‘Bar-X The Rocking M’) even had its video shown on MTV. The Melvins’ career has taken many forms, and it’s rarely been pretty, but it has never, ever been dull.

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GNASH – Shared Nightmares EP

Newcomers to the sludge metal scene for 2022, Gnash make a brilliant noise on their debut release ‘Shared Nightmares’. Its four songs are devastatingly heavy, and right from the opening bars of ‘The Darker Half’, there’s a sense of absolute commitment to conveying weight via those riffs, since bassist Ethan Martin wields a tone that sounds like he’s playing back an old Melvins riff at half speed. Even when the guitars make a slightly later arrival, Gnash sound like a band wading through a musical swamp, and the layer of distortion that covers a massive doom riff only serves their purpose greater, and in less than a minute, they seem set to win over a whole raft of doom and sludge devotees even before this release is barely off the ground.

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EWIGKEIT – Out Of The Woods EP

To move forwards, sometimes you have to go backwards. That’s certainly the case with Ewigkeit and their 2022 EP ‘Out of The Woods’. This follow up to the band’s excellent – and intense – pandemic inspired EP ‘Depopulate’ features three tracks that were written for James Fogarty’s former band In The Woods at some point prior to 2019. However, circumstances led to the band splitting, and James decided it wouldn’t be wise to let some potentially strong material go to waste.

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SCURÌU – Wilhelmina EP

A one man project from Italy, Scurìu set out to convey the darkest musical interests of its creator. An early demo released during the pandemic lockdown of 2020 introduced a small group of listeners to a sound that blended classic doom metal with traces of black metal harshness, and a vocal that almost seemed to channel Love Among Freaks’ ‘Berzerker’. If it weren’t for the presence of some great riffs and atmospheric spoken word passages, it might have even sounded like a comical pastiche of the extreme subgenres, but somehow – despite a wilfully lacking budget, truly home grown stance, and lack of actual songs – the recordings had something about them that pulled in the listener. It says a lot about how durable Cathedral-esque riffs can be, and how extreme metal’s insular and sometimes truly claustrophobic feel will hold up against less than ideal recording circumstances.

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