A blanket of smoke and incense billows from an attic-bedroom conversion as Electric Wizard makes a rare appearance from his occult abode to make a sandwich or to record an episode of Most Haunted. Conan sits in the garage and uses his sharp fingernails to shape mythical creatures out of wood, sporadically bellowing songs of war into the night, begrudgingly quieting down when his mother threatens to take away his copy of The Silmarillion. Slomatics is the younger brother of the two aforementioned doomsters. He spends his time gazing into the stars, reading Frank Herbert, Philip. K. Dick and H.G. Wells, and exploring the Moog that his father found for cheap at the car boot sale. He shares a lot in common with his older brothers, but his interest in the cosmic and the other-worldly sets him apart. Future Echo Returns is the fifth full-length by Belfast doomongers Slomatics and the final episode in a trilogy of thematically connected albums (the other two being 2012’s A Hocht and 2014’s Estron) that addresses humanity’s place and purpose in this magical little world of ours.
Future Echo Returns is a 38-minute album that feels more like an hour. Take that as you will. Musically there has not been a drastic shift in sound; the fuzz-laden slabs of doom and sludge are prominent, however a greater focus on vocal harmony and synthesiser usage do shake things up a bit. The pure amplified force of the riffs are impressive, at least at first. The two guitars (no bass) trudge on and on in tandem, rather blindly, throughout. There’s not a lot of variety or dynamism riff-wise. Slomatics prefer to steadily chip away at the listener’s sanity through cranking and droning heaviness. Certain tracks, “Electric Breath” and “Rat Chariot” for example, don’t sink their claws deeply enough to hook a listener, acting more as a buffer between songs rather than something of standalone merit. That’s my issue with this album: it’s too fat and lethargic. It could do with losing some fuzz and stretching its experimental legs.
“In the Grip of Fausto” opens with an exciting urgency but urgently it decides once again to slow down to a monotonous trudge. There’s the occasional bluesy Melvins-esque groove and King Buzzo-esque shout to get the blood pumping, the occasional shift in pace and spurt of intensity as in the opener “Estronomicon,” but for the most part Slomatics borrow from the book of shake, rattle and monotonous chug. However it’s when the band noodles in more subtle 70’s influenced space-rock soundscapes that the music comes to life. Slomatics gravitate towards a 70s rock inspired sound adorned with the finest elements of space and psychedelic rock. You can hear that in the simplicity of the riffs and the song structures masked under thick layers of overdrive and fuzz. Opener “Estronomicon,” for example, is what “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin would sound like if it was recorded in a rickety old spaceship cascading through space and struggling against cosmic wind and solar flares. Continually, the clean and rockier sounding vocals work well with the heavy usage of sci-fi drowsed synths that convey a 70’s Hawkwind, Pink Floyd, Neu! vibe.
Hawkwind-esque synth sounds ripple through the six-minute instrumental track “Ritual Beginnings,” building cinematically towards a downcast climax of whooshing laser sounds and crackling amps. It’s a very different track mood-wise compared to the rest of the album – somber, pensive and actually quite beautiful, it evokes more of a Boris or Asva vibe and works well to break up the album. Continuing with the positives, the vocals are diverse and interesting throughout; in the final track – the ten minute epic “Into the Eternal” – dramatic and powerful dual vocal harmonies echo above the moody soundscape, a hybrid of Big Business, Type O Negative, and 70’s prog. Even a moody guitar solo makes a rare appearance here. Similarly penultimate track “Supernothing” contains powerful clean vocals that counteract interestingly with the less-than-clean guitar tone. Vocals are used wisely and sparingly throughout, adding a much appreciated extra-dimension.
Future Echo Returns is meaty and full-hearted; there’s no tinny hollowness here, only bone-rattling noise. I’m all for the marauding, galloping, and crushing approach that bands like Slomatics, Conan, Slabdragger, and others in the British scene take, especially in comparison to the occult-rock revival happening parallel to it, however less bone-rattling heaviness and more synth-led tenderness may have made this a more memorable album.