If you’ve never heard of Frederick, Maryland, then you’re amongst 99.9% of the U.S. population. It’s a Podunk settlement in the western part of the state, composed of little more than a quaint downtown, rolling hills, a few cookie-cutter suburbs, and some scattered golf courses. It also happens to be where yours truly grew up. One dark night years after I moved away, I randomly scoured the web for bands from my musically barren hometown, only to come across Sloth Herder and their Abandon Pop Sensibility EP. Treading the foul line between black metal and grindcore, the record was a lot like Thomas Hobbes’ description of life before society: nasty, brutish, and short. Four years later, the quartet has signed to the Baltimore-based Grimoire Records for the release of their debut full-length No Pity, No Sunrise. And somehow, things have only gotten nastier.
I mean that, of course, in the best way possible. Listening to this record, I can’t help but think of metal’s past innovators, who combined genres, not for the sake of novelty, but because doing so was the only way to properly convey their message. For Herder, that message is one of abject filth and ugliness. It’s a message that can only be properly delivered via the band’s merging of black metal’s haunting atmosphere, sludge’s grimy nihilism, and grindcore’s spastic fury. Sunrise isn’t so much a listening experience as a mental assault, a merciless barrage of harsh chords, frantic tremolos, errant blastbeats, atonal melodies, meaty lurches, and abusive riffs that will have you calling your estranged relatives and apologizing for whatever petty grievances you ever held against them.
The closest point of comparison is the disturbed older brother of Dendritic Arbor or a version of The Dillinger Escape Plan that’s gone horribly wrong. Opener “Antipathic Grades” shows this nightmarish atmosphere from the start, battering through more riffs in its first two minutes than most records do in their first two songs. From the ragged, unforgiving chords to the rapid, discordant melodies, the song is swift and chaotic — and yet it still feels like a song and not just three minutes of abrasive noise. Likewise, late highlight “Whoresblood” initially stands out for its manic thrash beat and gut-punch riffing, before giving way to malicious clean picking and a ghastly, layered midsection that feels surprisingly cinematic — all in less than two minutes. In an often oppressive 35 minute runtime, it’s these fleeting moments of memorability that keep you clinging on for dear life.
Through it all, vocalist Josh Lyon vomits out a rabid, frothy snarl that sounds vaguely like a more guttural version of Gospel of the Horns’ Mark Howitzer. The guitars are similarly venomous and hefty, and though the overall sound is bleak and murky, every note is loud and wholly audible. As is common with bands that flirt with such savage dissonance, memorability is occasionally sacrificed in the name of ruthlessness, and at fourteen tracks Sunrise does overstay its welcome a bit. Yet amidst the frenzy is a sense of order: the performances are tight and grounded, with precise drumming that sounds like a supercharged metronome. Despite shifting time signatures, Sunrise never veers into kookiness or battering slop, remaining harrowing and bludgeoning as it morphs from the demented, skipping rhythm of “Agnosiak” to the crawling sludge of “No Adherence.”
But more important than the riffs is the feel. Sunrise feels like the aural depiction of a fever dream, of waking up in a cold sweat and being unable to tell where reality ends and nightmares begin. This is the music of trash-clogged gutters, of rainy back alleys, of rag-clad despondents choking on their own phlegm. This is the type of record you listen to once and are impressed by but assume by its often-inaccessible nature that it will eventually be tucked away and forgotten. Take if from me: it won’t be. Sunrise digs its way into your psyche like a parasite, beckoning you to listen all the way through to the tangled bit of clean picking that concludes stomping closer “Privation.” In a record so unsettling and claustrophobic, that clean picking is the only glimmer of light, the only shred of redemption this so-called “power-slob” group has to offer. I never knew my hometown could generate such darkness, and yet here we are. Sloth Herder is fresh yet frightening, abrasive yet addictive – partake in at your own risk.