When you’re still feeling young and invincible, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that the lifestyle choices you make today can have very real repercussions for your future health and well being. Now while I’m fully aware that this sounds like something your mother might say in an attempt to keep you on the straight and narrow, there is nevertheless a salient point here, and it’s something that Mike Williams is currently all too aware of. As I write this, the Eyehategod frontman is laid up in a serious condition in hospital, awaiting a liver transplant, with decades of excess finally beginning to take their toll on his fragile body. In spite of his chaotic lifestyle, the speed and ferocity of Williams’ deterioration has still come as a considerable shock to many, so the release of Chaotic Fiend — the latest showing from Japanese Eyehategod worshipers Sithter — comes at a poignant time for both the sludge scene and the metal community as a whole. I had the privilege of briefly meeting Williams a few years ago and can wholeheartedly attest him to be one of the gentlest, most humble souls to ever take to the stage. With this in mind, I had high hopes for Chaotic Fiend, as it represented a fine opportunity to pay fitting tribute to an ailing brother, not to mention one of the most iconic frontmen to ever grace the southern metal scene.
For those previously unfamiliar with the band, Sithter play sludge laced with a hint of Japanese weirdness, and the similarities between their music and that of Eyehategod are palpable. That’s certainly not to say there’s any copycatting going on—their sound is certainly unique in its own right—but it’s clear that the Louisiana outfit are a major influence here; the strangled vocals of frontman Hiroyuki Takano and the downtrodden, bluesy vibe of the guitar work are stylishly debauched, in typical EHG fashion. When taken at face value, Chaotic Fiend appears to have plenty of potential. So, how does it fare? Well, to be honest it manages to miss the mark about as often as it hits it, rendering it a challenging listen, but one which still retains enough redeeming merit to make it worth checking out for fans of the genre.
The problem I have with Chaotic Fiend is not that it’s terrible; it isn’t. Its main issue is that large chunks of it just aren’t really all that memorable. That being said, it does have its moments. “Empire,” for example, is characterized by a legitimately catchy guitar-riff-cum-bassline, and the thunderous “Punisher #13” is joyously chaotic, and would put a big grin on the face of anyone of an Eyehategod or Church of Misery persuasion. Other tracks, such as “Smoke Demon” and the album’s eponymous opener, however, just don’t make the same kind of impact. There’s plenty of enjoyable material on offer, but there’s also a lot that doesn’t quite cut the mustard, and this leaves us with a record that never really feels 100% confident of itself.
While it must be said that a lot of the album is a hit and miss, the area in which Chaotic Fiend really excels is its production value. The guitars have an earthy crunch that lends the dirty blues riffs an air of real authenticity, and the meaty bass tone has plenty of body while retaining enough high-end punch to be audible and interesting in its own right. The entire album essentially sounds as though it was recorded live in one sitting. I have no idea whether or not this was actually the case, but it’s a pleasant change from the somewhat sanitized multi-tracked sound heard on so many releases nowadays, and it’s a quality that suits Sithter’s style of music very well indeed.
Put simply, Chaotic Fiend is as rewarding as it is frustrating. In a similar manner to that of Evilfucker, its aptly-titled predecessor, the band have written and executed a record that sounds genuinely excellent. Unfortunately, the actual content of the music is somewhat less consistent. In spite of its flaws, though, there’s still much to like for sludge aficionados, and the style and passion with which it’s executed would undoubtedly make Mike Williams proud all the same. For that reason alone, I will be keeping tabs on Sithter’s progress; if they manage to refine their songwriting approach a bit, their future has real potential.