“Five overlength songs of Sludge-Doom-Metal.” This is the opening statement made of Slug Lord‘s sophomore release, Transmutation, on their one sheet. As far as inspirational and enthusing promotional materials go, this resides somewhere next to “chlamydia – perhaps the most average of all sexually-transmitted infections” and “Volvo – the best example of Swedish culture.” It’s not the best introduction, but I was willing to look past it since I was excited to document the rise of another mollusc-orientated band, alongside fellow gastropod enthusiasts Slugdge. Drawing influence from Finnish compatriots Reverend Bizarre, Transmutation is a dirgy doom record, referencing early Electric Wizard for its shorter tracks and funeral doom for its bookending long songs. Does it make you want to exalt small fleshy animals on a slimy pedestal, or calculatedly obliterate their world with salt?
To begin, it’s worth acknowledging that this type of doom can be a bit niche for the masses, even within metal. There tends to be a lot of repetition, intense distortion, and things can take their damn time to pick up. Nonetheless, I would argue that bands like Ahab pull it off, due to the sheer monstrosity and power of their chords, and by appropriately frequent shift in dynamics. Unfortunately, Slug Lord has neither the writing chops nor the monolithic atmosphere necessary to engage a listener for the entire duration of Transmutation. Opener, “Orgy with the Dead” (I’m now imagining copulation with a dried and shrivelled slug, and so are you), is the slowest and longest song, beginning with distant rumbling and reverberating speech, before crashing in with the first chords. It’s suitably oppressive and dark, but the use of “overlength” slowly becomes more and more apt, as do “unspectacular” and “monotonous.” Cosmic synths are shoe-horned in, perhaps for the sake of variety, but their inclusion is far too abrupt and unsubtle, overpowering and weakening the key strength of such doom – the massive sound. A discordantly groovy guitar solo kicks in after the mid-point, contributing to the sense of arbitrary variation. The other long, slower song, “Gastropoda,” is more up-tempo, but still struggles to maintain my attention throughout.
Fleshing out the core of the record between these bookends are three songs which quicken the pace a little and offer more melodic riffs. They’re comparable to Electric Wizard‘s self-titled release, sludgier and more urgent than the heaviest material. They’re certainly more engaging, with mildly hummable melodies. The second half of “Triumphant Drunk” has a pleasing groove to it, and “Cremation” uses a more shredding tone, culminating in a grinding solo at 3:54. Despite this, and their shorter length, there’s still plenty of flab (or slimy flesh) which should have been trimmed, where the songs meander and get bogged down in passages which long outlast their welcome. More compelling though the riffs may be, they don’t have the legs to carry entire songs – the writing just isn’t sharp or interesting enough for that.
Exacerbating matters, Slug Lord‘s song structuring is unsatisfying. “Orgy with the Dead” reaches a decently cacophonous climax by 12:52, before fading – it would be a sound ending to a largely powerful song. They then saw fit to introduce a new lead riff and protract the song for another minute and a half, before treating the listener to dissonant and whiny guitars sounds slowly (and I mean over the course of two and a half minutes) grinding the track to a halt. It completely neuters the strength of the initial climax and bored me. “Gastropoda” suffers the same fate, itself undergoing a solid four occasions where it could have perfectly respectably finished before it actually does [This is the condition known as Hobbititis. – Steel Druhm]. Despite what some may tell you, multiple climaxes aren’t always a good thing
To their credit, the mastering job is solid, lending doomy resonance to the chords, and the mix is good, affording each instrument its requisite space. Nonetheless, Transmutation is indeed “overlength” and dull. They seem aware that the material stretches too little over a large area, thus implementing variation, before counter-productively extending songs far beyond their natural length. It comes across as a confused muddle, with a few good moments submerged in a salivary sea. Squelch.