Eyehategod’s new self-titled record is one born out of tribulation. Pulling it together to pen a new record 14 years after the release of its predecessor Confederacy of Ruined Lives, the incumbent kings of drug-addled sludge metal miserablism have gone through a litany of troubles, including poverty, drug withdrawal, prison time and an apocalyptic natural disaster. After listening to the punkified scorcher of an opening track “Agitation! Propaganda!,” you would never have guessed.
You might find it strange to see a word like “fun” anywhere near the vicinity of this New Orleans quintet, but Eyehategod’s long-awaited self-titled record is certainly enlivened and rejuvenated. They are no less dour than on previous outings, but now they spew their piss-and-vinegar nihilism with health, vigor and confidence, and it isn’t just due to Billy Anderson’s thick, beefy production. The boys are back in town, and they’ve got some rock-solid songs and a rollicking, airtight performance to show for it.
Eyehategod has traditionally opted to open their records with some of their sloggiest material – take “Blank” or “My Name is God (I Hate You),” for example – but “Agitation! Propaganda!” earns its exclamation points by cutting right through the hazy murk with a furious dose of sludgy hardcore punk. It’s perhaps the most immediate moment of the band’s career – not a note is wasted and neither a moment hesitated in its two and a half minutes.
This newfound immediacy even characterizes slower cuts like “Parish Motel Sickness” and “Robitussin and Rejection.” They trudge to be sure, but lost is the sloppy sickliness of their classic material, supplanting it with a tight, rehearsed performance. “Robitussin…” flaunts their trademark knotted chromatic riffs, but it’s hardly a messy stupor. Tighter still are cuts such as “Worthless Rescue” and “Nobody Told Me,” with the latter coming so close to straight-up blues rock at about 2:24 that one might momentarily forget that this is, in fact, the same five guys who penned some of the most harrowing expressions of real-life pain ever to come out of the extreme metal underground.
As if making up for the band’s unusual exuberancy, frontman Mike Williams waxes vitriolic with his inimitable snarl, sounding far less haggard and breathless than on previous records. The lyrics are predictably swallowed up in the chaos, but on “Flags and Cities Bound,” we are treated to perhaps Eyehategod’s only moment of lyrical intelligibility in the form of a disorienting spoken-word piece. “In this place of probation,” Williams seethes, “reading the label of a lead-based paint remover is considered highbrow literature.” His blunt gutter poetry – evidently culled from experience – careens into the obtuse later on, but the imagery is concrete, evocative and disturbing when draped against the backdrop of Eyehategod’s classic wailing amp feedback, and certainly a breath of fresh air when paired against the cookie-cutter throwaways that metal lyrics often are.
All of this praise serves greatly to underline the tragedy of Joey LaCaze’s passing late last year. LaCaze’s was always Eyehategod’s beating heart, and at no point in their career is this more apparent than on this record. His tight, arhythmic swing absolutely dominates the groovier tracks like the aforementioned “Quitter”s Offensive” and particularly the rock-solid “Worthless Rescue,” wrangling in the rest of the band without resorting to obnoxious flashiness. LaCaze left behind his proudest moment on this record, and his clear enthusiasm behind the kit makes the band’s comeback bittersweet.
Nonetheless, Eyehategod is hardly the gamechanger that Take As Needed For Pain or Dopesick were, and there certainly aren’t songs quite on par with the likes of “Dixie Whiskey” and “Southern Discomfort.” Instead, Eyehategod is an earnest record by a band evidently comfortable in its own skin. The band was not without its scars even without the passing of LaCaze, but this record is proof enough that tribulation only makes Eyehategod stronger.