Back in January, St. Louis trio The Lion’s Daughter caught a few of us off guard here at the AMG offices with their grotesque and captivating sophomore LP, Existence Is Horror. The record was surprisingly impressive for such an early-year release, and it even had AMG himself proclaiming that 2016 would be the Year of Blackened Sludge. If Allfather’s Bless the Earth with Fire proves anything, AMG was at least half right. Though there’s no blackened-ness to be found on Bless, there’s certainly plenty of sludge. There’s also plenty of hardcore flair, devastating riffs, and fiercely tight songwriting. In fact, this is one of the strongest overall releases I’ve heard this year, and a terrific debut from a group quivering with pent-up aggression and playing metal on their own terms – tidy genre classification be damned.
Not to be confused with the now-defunct Canadian group of the same name, Allfather are a U.K.-based quintet who formed in 2014 and have only two previous releases under their belt – No Gods. No Masters. EP and the Blood Red Sunset digital single, both from last year. Bless shows the group largely continuing in the same vein as those works: punishingly heavy guitars with a bit of High on Fire Southern goodness, rowdy wahhing solos, gruff and beastly toughguy roars, and crackling, taut drumming all wrapped up in a hardcore-injected entree of Armageddon sludge that concludes its proceedings in just six tracks and 34 minutes. Oh, and did I mention riffs? Because this album has some mofuggin’ RIFFS.
Beginning with a snappy drum buildup, opener “Raskolnikov” showcases all this, along with Allfather’s slick sense of melody. After wafting colossal, resonating chords over the fray, the song delivers a sickly catchy, escalating guitar lick that I’ve been humming to myself for days, later revisiting that lick after the song’s climax. For such a new band, the songs here are amazingly well-constructed, often being immediately accessible without sounding formulaic, predictable, or even all that similar to one another. Second track “The Bloody Noose” ambles along with a solid Southern smashing at first, before throwing in a riff that’s so dense it’s apt to cause jock itch, and then galloping to the finish with a rollicking final third that recalls the immortal conclusion of Black Sabbath’s eponymous song. “Mouth of the Beast” revs the engine with a rapid, Matt Pike-approved chugathon and a great bellow of “Your words are the cancer!,” while “Dark Actors” features a delicious rolling groove that’ll have you wondering why hardcore and sludge have never been combined so seamlessly before.
Highlights abound, and while most tracks average 4-and-a-half minutes, the centerpiece comes with epic 11-minute closer “Death, and Hell Followed With Him.” From the Cult of Luna-esque, apocalyptic clean plucking of its opening, “Death” runs the gamut from burly, sweat-drenched chords, lonesome basslines, phlegmy screams, Mantar riffs that will have your prefontal lobes dripping from your nostrils, to a loping, Eyehategod-style finish. The cherry on top? Bonus track “Blood Red Sunset,” which rides on another terrifically addictive, melodic riff, serving as an excellent coda on its own and one of the strongest overall songs I’ve heard in 2016.
It’s obvious the guitar-work is the real highlight, but the sheer conviction in the hardcore-tinged roars and the dynamic drumming fully complete the package. Production-wise, the guitar-tone is booming and vicious, but that does lead me to my largest complaint. While the DR isn’t particularly low and the mix is clear, something about the way Bless is produced results in some unfortunate listening fatigue, where one subconsciously begins to tune out the music despite how terrific the material is. On several occasions, this led me to think less of the album’s quality, and it was only when I sat down and consciously tried to give it a focused listen that I realized how great it really was. I can’t help wonder how much a roomier mix would have alleviated this.
That said, there’s really nothing negative to say about the material. Bless is the rare case where a cliche proves entirely true: this is really all killer, no filler. From the tight performances, spot-on songwriting, slew of ‘fuck yeah’ moments, to the convincing anti-planetary rage, Bless the Earth with Fire is a debut that any fan of sludgy extreme metal owes it to themselves to check out. This is a band to watch and an album to hear.