Sludge metal is an extreme style of music that originated through combining elements of doom metal, stoner and hardcore metal. It generally features slow tempos, heavy rhythms, dark atmospheres and abrasive sounds. There are today many good bands dedicated to this genre of metal, each one giving its own interesting interpretation, and judging by the results the year 2017 has been definitely important: we have in fact some excellent albums that will leave a clear mark for a long time.
In collecting and selecting the 10 albums to be included in the list I had to make some choices, both because of a few good bands that didn’t enter the chart and also to assign the positions in the list for those groups who where included. As always these choices will generate some criticis, but I believe it’s part of the game and there is always the opportunity to comment. In any case, I’m much confident that the present selection of the top ten albums of the year is fully representative of the status of sludge metal in modern times and even a few modifications that could occur in the list wouldn’t change the overall situation.
An interesting element that emerges from this list is how sludge metal has become an universal musical genre, practiced successfully everywhere in the world. The top ten chart includes two bands from U.S. and Sweden, one from Germany, one from UK, one from France, one from Belgium, one from Italy and one from Poland.
Before leaving the floor to the top ten list, I take the opportunity to provide below the access to one of the most recent mixtapes dedicated to sludge metal among those published in the blog. This features most of the bands included in the chart and it may be the ideal soundtrack for reading the rest of the post. Enjoy!
DARK TOWERS, BRIGHT LIGHTS by Cranial
Darl Towers, Bright Lights is the debut release of the German band Cranial, which features in the line-up some members coming from the the mythical band Omega Massif, now dissolved. In 45 minutes and 4 long tracks, these guys from Hamburg deliver an epic sludge and post rock opera, somehow reminiscent of Isis, Cult of Luna and Neurosis.
The music of Cranial keeps all the main features of sludge metal with clear deviations towards the more elegant melodies of post rock. There is no particular innovation or creativity in the music produced by these guys but pure, simple and beautiful marching riffs, repetitive bass lines, and apocalyptic atmospheres.
In summary: the debut LP from Cranial features a satisfying and exciting collection of modern sludge medal songs, although I am convinced that these musicians have the capacity – for their future works – to contribute in a more innovative and personal way to the evolution of this musical genre.
WIZARD BLOODY WIZARD by Electric Wizard
British doom veterans Electric Wizard have published this year the ninth studio album of their long career, the second featuring the new rythmic section played by Clayton Burgess on bass and Simon Poole on drums and percussions.
The latest work from the Wizards, whose publication has been quite tormented and affected by a series of delays and postponements, sees the band from South West England abandon any desire for complex and dynamic structures. Almost all the songs of the album are in fact built on a simple and linear implant where the initial riff, slow and sometimes bluesy, is repeated substantially until the end of the song, with few variations and evolutions. Where this mechanism benefits of an intriguing and engaging riff the final result is certainly captivating. But in some cases, unfortunately, the songs appear too simple and flat to become memorable.
At the end of the day we can say that this record is not comparable with the major masterpieces that the band has released in the past, although these guys confirm themselves among the best representatives of that variant of sludge which bases its roots in doom metal.
DOMAIN OF EMBER by Boson
Boson is a new sludge metal band from Minnesota, in the U.S., and Domain of Ember is their promising debut full-lenght album. As the name of the band suggests, the music composed by this quartet takes inspiration from the “Boson”, which is that fundamental element of quantum physics named after the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Basically the Bosons are elementary particles that – once combined – generate all the most complex atomic structures that we see around us. In the same way the music of this band also starts from the combination of simple, linear elements, which are placed next to each other to develop long, complex and articulate songs.
The result is definitely interesting and the group shows ambition and personality, all features that foreshadow good things for their future. Surely there must be a little more attention and effort to increase the variety of songs, which in this debut seem excessively similar.
TRELU by Fallow
Fallow is a metal band from Southern France formed in 2010. Trelu (which means “Full Moon” in the old language of Southern France) is their second album and it’s basically a live session that the quartet recorded at the Darius Milhaud Conservatory of Music of Aix en Provence, France. This work follows their previuous LP, Werra (“Controversy”), published by the band a couple of years ago.
The music played by Fallow is an interesting version of post metal with many elements of sludge and psychedelic metal. There are in fact many moments in Fallow’s songs where the walls of heavyness and the poderous guitar riffs leave room for more rarefied and dreamy atmospheres; but it’s usually a short breath, a small parenthesis of delicacy before the most powerful sounds make their return.
As the band writes on their social media pages, the songs in Trelu are about witchcraft and legends in Southern France. And as a side note, currently the album can be acquired for just 1€ on their bandcamp page.
MATTER & VOID by Sorxe
Sorxe, from Phoenix in the U.S., are one of those groups that managed to find the right balance between the typical musical structures of post rock and the heavy and brutal sounds of sludge metal. Matter & Void, the second full-lenght album released by the band, represents an evident evolution with respect to the debut album (Surrounded by Shadows, published in 2014), especially for what concerns the introduction of slightly lighter atmospeeres in most of the tracks. It looks lite these guys from Arizona had established that the monotonous oppressiveness of their first LP was a bit of a limit to their creativity, and therefore decided to loosen a little the grip to explore new territories.
An aspect which is definitely interesting about Sorxe is that they feature two bass players in the four piece line-up. The “sonic” management of the two bass lines has been exceptional: there is no “bass overload” in the sound of the band and, on the contrary, this stylistic choice gives additional flavours to their pieces.
It’s really a pleasure to see a band that managed to improve so well the already good results obtained at their debut. Surely this band is among those to be observed and tracked carefully from here on.
RUST by Monolord
Today it’s almost impossible to see a rock or metal chart that doesn’t contain a couple of Swedish groups, and this ranking is no exception.
Monolord, from Gothenburg, released this year their latest album, Rust, which is the third since their formation four years ago. Despite such prolificity, all the albums published by the band so far have always been characterized by interesting and innovative elements. Moreover, during these four years the band has also shown a positive trend with a steady improvement in the quality of their music, something that is fully confirmed with their new album.
From a musical point of view, Monolord is one of those bands which like taking a given rhythm and keep it constant through the whole song, or even the entire album. What makes the difference, in this case, is the beauty of the bluesy guitar riffs, always intriguing and definitely enjoyable to hear. Stylistically we’re in front another variation of that marriage between sludge and doom that proved to be so successful in recent years, with atmospheres and melodies that are in this case less oppressive and gloomy than the norm.
Monolord is another band that has been capable to build its own style even by drawing heavily into the sounds of the masters of this genre. And if these guys will continue to publish albums with the same frequency that characterized their production so far, we won’t need to wait a lot to see if the positive trend they have shown up to this point will be confirmed with their next albums.
CHILDREN OF THE HAZE by Dopelord
Children of the Haze is the new studio effort by Polish sludge quartet Dopelord, and it’s the third entry of their discography since they were formed in 2010. The music of Dopelord is an oppressively slow and psychedelic trip into heavyness and as they say on their bandcamp page, their music is inspired by “old movies, 70s music and magical herbs“. And indeed, this is probably the most hallucinated album on this Top Ten chart.
One of the peculiar characteristics of Dopelord has alway been their innate capability to be heavy and expressive at the same time. This element is fully represented in their last work, where the powerful guitars and the massive rhythm section creates an impenetrable and oppressive wall of sound, slow to exhaustion, but at the same time capable to generate incredibly expressive melodic lines, further enriched by abundant psychedelic inserts and a few light touches of keyboards and synthetizers. To complete the picture, the extensive use of clean vocals adds another peculiar element of innovation in the succesful recipe crafted by this quartet of doped metallers.
It’s almost impossible to remain indifferent to the music of Dopelord, and Children of the Haze is for sure another masterpiece in their very good discography.
MASS VI by Amenra
If there is an album that can be fully summarized by its first two minutes, this is Mass VI by Belgian domm & sludge masters Amenra. Every constituting element of this new masterpiece from the band of the West Flanders is in fact contained in the initial moments of their last album: disturbing melodies, suffocating atmospheres, and a crescendo of anxiety that ends up in violent screams and an explosion of guitars.
The eerie quietness of the first couple of minutes of “Children Of The Eye” announces the coming storm, and the nine explosive, cathartic minutes of this opening song hold in themselves all the strikingly disparate emotions that we have come to expect from Amenra (from the album’s bandcamp page).
As a formation that is active since many years, we could somehow anticipate what would have been inside their new album: contrasts of light and darkness, plenty of crescendos, brutality, intensity and melody perfectly balanced in every song. What we couldn’t imagine, maybe, was the brilliant and astonishing way in which all of these elements have been composed together. Taken as a whole, this is one of the most satisfying records we had in 2017, and it fully deserved its position in the Top Three of this chart.
8 by Ufomammut
I cannot hide the pleasure of presenting an Italian band in one of the main positions of this chart. But Ufomammut, from Alessandria, have nowadays achieved such a reputation in the stoner doom panorama that I can’t be accused of giving them a favorable treatment.
A particular stylistic choice that the trio of Italian metallers has adopted for their new record, which is named 8 as the position that the disc occupies in the band’s discography, is that the 8 songs of the album are merged one into the another without a real separation, creating a single uninterrupted flow of crushing sounds with sparse touches of psychedelia. Making an album as a single stream of heavy music could generate serious drawbacks in terms of accessibility and overall enjoyability. To avoid this effect the band has produced one of the most beautiful sequences of sludgy riffs among those we have heard this year.
Ufomammut have been often accused in the past of writing songs and albums bigger than themselves. But with this work, which comes after 18 years since the band’s formation, we can say that the band has eventually reached its maturity. Their last work signs the definitive inscription of the band among the masters of modern sludge. The ambition that these musicians had always manifested in their previous works has been finally combined with a brilliant capacity of songwriting and a particular attention to every detail of the production process. Passion and experience generated a memorable result, an album that has the full potential to leave a clear mark in the sludge and stoner world.
HOUSE OF THE DEAD by Ordos
Ordos is the name of an incredible stoner-doom band from Sweden, which released early this year their second album, House of the Dead. The LP follows their 2013’s homonymous debut work.
The band does nothing to hide that their sound is inspired by the legacy of the the 70’s, and although there are no particular traces of innovation in their music, the product that they have packed for this new album is so incredibly addictive that the lack of novelty is not perceived at all.
I’ve fallen in love with House od the Dead since the first time I’ve heard it on Spotify, and the initial positive impression remained unchanged – indeed it has further grown – after many and many other listens of the album. I’m convinced that this record has got all the necessary elements to excel: the variety of the songs, an incredible enjoyability of the riffs, the perfection of the production, the skill of all the musicians and also the right level of roughness which makes the product genuine.
And as a matter of fact, day after day this album has become one of the favourite LPs of the year, well beyond the boundaries of sludge, stoner and doom. Competition was tough this year for the Top Ten chart, but in true honestly there have never been doubts that this record would have given the way to some other contender.