New Orleans Sludgefeast
It’s always a pleasure to listen to a band who really know what they’re doing. Formed way back in 1988 in New Orleans, eyehategod have been doing sludge metal since before it was a thing. There are currently dozens of variations on the thick, bluesy guitar-rock at sludge’s heart—from doom metal to crust punk to stoner metal to progressive sludge and more. Despite this crowded field, eyehategod still manage to stand out both as originals and as innovators, faithful to a certain New Orleans zeitgeist, with an unforgiving insistence on taking their listeners to bleak, grimy, down-and-out places.
The self-titled eyehategod finds the band still going strong. The album blasts off with “Agitation! Propaganda!,” a molasses-thick hardcore punk mosh-starter that rumbles forward like lava rolling down a hill. The song ends with a sludge outro that oozes bluesy swagger. “Trying to Crack the Hard Dollar” immediately follows, setting the sludge metal template that eyehategod works from, excepting a few noteworthy deviations.
There are a few patterns that are noticeable right away. Vocalist Mike Williams doesn’t do scary metal-guy vocals, instead emitting his bitter ruminations in a screech that drips frustration and vulnerability. At times he sounds like a hopeless middle-schooler, uttering a last plaintive cry before sinking out of sight behind a wall of bullies. Guitarists Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton are old hands, sludging and feedbacking away fluidly, mostly in unison. Their thick riffage slides masterfully between moods, shifting from menacing to bluesy to playful to regal with subtle grace.
Bassist Gary Mader mostly plays in unison as well, adding low-end weight to the already robust guitar sound. However, in his solo moments, Mader’s basslines are wonderfully sinister and groovy. Longtime drummer Joey LaCaze—who tragically passed away shortly after the recording of eyehategod—handles all the rhythmic wrinkles with ease, playing loose and swingy where he needs to, and adding plenty of sharp snare accents to keep things lively.
Mid-tempo, lumbering sludge dominates eyehategod. The band prove their expertise on songs like “Worthless Rescue,” with its bluesy, monolithic early section and stuttering, syncopated second half. “Robitussin and Rejection” is another standout, with Mike Williams’s agonized vocals adrift among soul-crushing doom riffs. Hopelessness never sounded so good. However, the long parade of sludge can grow tiresome, with open-ended riffs cycling on and on.
This seems like a shame when one hears how well the outlying moments on the album work. The hardcore punk of “Agitation! Propaganda!” and “Framed to the Wall” kick ass, and the bass and feedback accompanied by a skid-row poetry reading of “Flags and Cities Bound” is beyond moody. Even the not-as-electrifying Sabbath-y speed rock on “Medicine Noose” is a welcome diversion. More ideas like these would have added some essential texture to eyehategod.
Overcoming the long gap in studio LPs since 2000’s Confederacy of Ruined Lives, this new album showcases an eyehategod who still have the ability to make bludgeoning, raw sludge metal on par with the product of their many contemporaries—old rivals and upstarts included. Eyehategod is a statement of relevance and expertise, and a damned good reason for unfamiliar listeners to work backward into eyehategod’s discography. Between eyehategod and the many other New Orleans bands in their close circle, there’s enough quality, down-and-dirty, misanthropic sludge to submerge one in a swamp of complete and absorbing despair.