Back in the primordial days of this here blog, we attempted something called “AMG’s Unsigned Band Rodeo.” The basic idea was to select a bunch of unsigned bands and give them the collective review treatment to find the most worthy buried gems. It was our humble effort to remind folks that the metal underground is still an important part of the world of metal.
After several years of self-righteous elitism where we largely overlooked unsigned acts, it’s high time we make amends. And so we’re bringing AMGs Unsigned Band Rodeo back from the dustbins of history with a fresh paint job and a butt-load of new reviewers! Every other month we will pluck a band from metallic obscurity, review the holy Bejesus out of them and leave them to the mercy of you, the fickle masses. At year’s end we will crown the best in show and shower them with accolades, cheap beer and day old sushi. Now that you know the score, welcome to the Rodeo, mofos!
victim contestant on our newfangled Rodeo is Black Tundra, a band from Warsaw Poland who formed just last year. Featuring former members of Dopelord and Hidden Haze, they play what they describe as “post-sludge doom metal,” and despite still being in their infancy as a unit, they dropped their debut mini-LP on April 6th of this year. You can check out their Bandcamp and Facebook pages for more details. Now that the housekeeping is done, we’ll throw things to our ruthless rodeo reviewing staff. Buckle in folks, things are about to get bumpy!
Steel Druhm: For a band barely a year old, this is a shockingly slick, professional slab o’ sludge-doom. This kind of post-metally ISIS/Neurosis riff-slog isn’t usually my cup of tea, but I got on board because Black Tundra writes compelling music. Their bare-bones, riff-driven approach works well, despite minimal use of vocals, and the mood is pleasantly bleak and miserable throughout. They share Inter Arma‘s ability to wring intensity from simple riff patterns and mostly indecipherable vocals, but inject more of a stoned Kyuss vibe to the guitar-work, as on “Gates of Moss” and standout “Blinded by the Northern Lights.” With lurking traces of Tool and subtle nods to Agalloch, the band choose their influences wisely and use them adroitly. All six tracks have something to offer and the album plays especially well as a whole, with a darkly melancholic vibe and engaging ebb and flow. At 36 minutes it’s the perfect length for such oppressive fare. A very promising start. 3.5/5.0
Madam X: Not to make light of Black Tundra‘s heavily fuzzed-out journey, but nifty cool is what came to mind as I spun their debut. Steering away from what I traditionally think of as Polish-style metal, Black Tundra instead focused their sights on the USA for inspiration, taking a base of Neurosis-styled fuzzy doom and incorporating the unusual nature of ISIS for contrast. Sticking their necks out still further, Black Tundra also dabble in a few moments of alt-rock, some black metal riffing and even a gentle teaser of My Dying Bride inspired doom. All these elements pull together seamlessly with the heft of Marcin Skarzyński’s yells, sparingly delivered, but closely resembling those of Kristian Karlsson (Cult of Luna). Though Black Tundra is not without some minor song bloat, most specifically in “Gates of Moss” and “No Dawn,” these are only minor complaints in the grand scheme of a well constructed album. Black Tundra succeeds best in its entirety, with “Circling the Dead” so perfectly encapsulating what I want to hear more of in the band’s next release. 3.5/5.0
Doc Fisting: As an admitted non-fan of sludge/doom/post-whatever, I still concede that Warsaw’s Black Tundra does a pretty good job with it. Genre forefathers ISIS seem to be the big influence here, in terms of sonic girth and loud/quiet dynamics, not to mention the sparse use of vocals. There’s a few pleasant surprises as well, including some Intronaut-esque jazzy bits on “No Dawn” and the dramatic use of blast beats on the eponymous “Black Tundra.” The almost-uplifting instrumental “Blinded By The Northern Lights” is another high point. While this may appear to be a mere 6-track EP, it often feels more massive than its 36 minute running time (this could be a good or bad thing depending on your outlook). Black Tundra is a well-executed debut by some clearly talented individuals, and will most likely appeal to fans of the slow heavy stuff. 3.0/5.0
Dr. A.N. Grier: There are few bands capable of capturing the very embodiment of their band name. Black Tundra happens to be one of those bands. Whatever you are thinking when you see the words “black tundra,” that’s what you should expect on this self-titled debut. Ranging from sludgy chunkiness to post-metal progressiveness, Black Tundra packs six tracks with atmospheric chug. This Polish foursome delivers a sound that mixes the progressiveness of Mastodon and Neurosis with the aggression of Via Vengeance. “Before the Fall” uppercuts your chin, “Blinded by the Northern Lights” sends you swooning like a Pelican, “Circling the Dead” adds a club to your skull, and “No Dawn” combines all these emotions into the record’s conclusion. In general, there’s nothing here I can’t get from other bands, but the production and songwriting are up there with most of the signed bands in the field. And with a runtime around thirty-six minutes, it flows just as well as any of them. 3.0/5.0
Grymm: When you mention Poland to me, my mind either conjures up one of two things: exquisite death and black metal, or juicy kielbasa. Black Tundra is not kielbasa, but don’t let that mislead you into thinking their brand of post-inspired doom isn’t meaty. Plainly put, this six-song self-titled LP is some clever Cult of Luna-influenced sludge with some serious heft. Sprinkle in some Kyuss in sections (hello, “Blinded by the Northern Lights”), and you’ve got the recipe for a promising new act. With a little more attention in the vocals (which aren’t bad, but feel a bit like an afterthought), and a bit more variety in the songwriting, Black Tundra could be the shot in the keister that post-metal desperately needs. And now I want kielbasa. 3.0/5.0
El Cuervo: I was very keen to participate in this little collective review lark. A chance to expose unsigned bands in the underground who may otherwise go forgotten? Plus the diversity of opinions afforded by involving many writers? We’re so altruistic. Black Tundra are such an unsigned band with their self-titled debut promising sludgy doom. There’s no denying these hefty characteristics: the distortion-drenched guitars and measured pace keeps the atmosphere dense and crushing. The issue is that I’m simply not engaged during the majority of these 36 minutes. Repetition is too liberally deployed to the point of boredom and there’s only so much feedback I can consume before I need a different sound to draw me out of my lethargy. Such a sound indeed arises on “Circling the Dead” which features fragile, shimmering chords akin to post-rock. But this gesture is too ephemeral to impact my overall opinion. Not so altruistic after all. 2.0/5.0
Mark Z: Picture a doomier ISIS, or a sludgier version of Tempel that’s garnished with bellowing roars. If that sounds appetizing, don your post-metal bib and prepare to feast. In a genre known for its slow-burning compositions, Black Tundra impress by keeping things both concise and interesting. This debut is only 36 minutes and 6 songs long, yet nearly every track manages to work in its own hummable lick or immense riff that feels like standing on a cliff and gazing wistfully at the ocean. Check “Gates of Moss,” which punctuates its lumbering sludge with repetitive, fuzzy leads. Likewise, the melodies in “Circling the Dead” sound so vast and drenched in reverb I’m tempted to drop the term “postgaze.” While closer “No Dawn” could have wrapped things up more triumphantly, all in all Tundra is a rumbly, well-written debut that will no doubt excite fans of Pelican and their ilk. 3.5/5.0
L. Saunders: Poland’s Black Tundra emerges with a monolithic brand of sludge-doom on their impressive self-titled debut. Containing faint whiffs of Neurosis to go with the groovy, riff-centric fuzz of Truckfighters, and trippy, exploratory nature of classic Kyuss, Black Tundra craft interesting songs that twist in unexpected ways; from heavier doom slogs, crunchy stoner grooves and slow building crescendos, to softer, psychedelic detours and killer jams. Black Tundra’s solid craftsmanship and tight delivery avoids the repetitive and plodding traits that can easily trip-up bands toiling in the sludge-doom field, ensuring the exploratory elements don’t come at the cost of hooky and focused songwriting, exemplified on the excellent “Blinded by the Northern Lights” and deliciously groovy “Gates of Moss.” The strong instrumental focus works advantageously, as the strained bellows are the weakest aspect here, while tighter editing could have lifted the album to a higher plane. Nevertheless, this is a solid debut, well worth a listen. 3.0/5.0
Roquentin: How would an elevator pitch for a sludge/doom/post-metal band sound? Black Tundra’s 36 minutes answer this question. The album opens with sparse rumbling, distortion-free yet heavy, while the band employs a layered and expansive vocabulary, building towards the “quiet section” trope. But the hulking destruction that follows, reminiscent of Ufomammut’s elephantine stride and ISIS’ early abrasiveness, shows a band that reaches for such atmospheric passages only as a part of a formula rather than a necessity. They distill the best elements of the genre—hidden melodies and crushing riffs intertwine whilst tempos vary wildly—and piece them together in a disparate but pleasant mosaic. Yet the greatest strength of their approach, the compelling variety, also becomes a burden, bringing forth a sense of fragmentation and crudeness. While Black Tundra’s debut might be closer to a collection of excellent ideas rather than a completely coherent album, it marks a welcome beginning. 3.0/5.0
Al Kikuras: The potent brew Black Tundra scrape from the depths of whatever crevasse the Polish dig in when it’s midnight on a Saturday and the vodka is running low is like a plague-laden mosquito sucking the blood from your veins and simultaneously injecting some horrific virus that turns your cells to shit. While bricking the accelerator and slamming EYEHATEGOD head on into Neurosis, then dumping a black metal borscht over the corpses reads like it would be nothing but ugly, what really cracked me across the jaw with this one is it’s sometimes downright gorgeous. Instrumental “Blinded by the Northern Lights,” in particular, has a sickly pop sensibility as if the entire lineup of Collective Soul contracted syphilis, which is absolutely true. You read it here first. This is repugnant yet beautiful music for the ugly times that we are all forced to live in. Kudos, comrades. May your carcinogenic cacophony lead to the demise of us all and a better future for this decrepit rock we inhabit. We’ve earned it. 4.0/5.0
Huck N’ Roll: Polish doom metal from a band called Black Tundra? It already sounds heavy even before pressing “Play.” And heavy it is, in a kind of intriguing post-metal influenced way. Imagine Russian Circles cranked to the point where speaker stacks are exploding, with harsh vocals increasing the heaviness exponentially. “But Mr. Roll, these guys are new and unsigned, how good can Black Tundra be?” Don’t fret in that regard: this album is one of the most polished (forgive the pun) unsigned debuts I’ve heard. Musicianship is excellent, vocals are strong, the song arrangements are those we would expect from seasoned bands, and the production is top notch for this style. All told, Black Tundra‘s debut is more than just a pleasant surprise: I’m convinced these guys won’t be unsigned for long, and I’m looking forward to album #2 when it comes out. 3.5/5.0
Akerblogger: Threads of Old Man Gloom, ISIS and others that belong to the spacious sludge-flecked post-metal cabal cascade through Black Tundra’s imaginatively titled Black Tundra. However, what makes Black Tundra succeed is its leanings towards the leafy suburbs of stoner and the melancholy back-alleys of 90’s alternative fuzz. Strongest song “Blinded by Northern Lights” possesses a mid-90s Melvins-esque sound that sends a warm shiver up this reviewer’s cold spine. Throughout, the moody, dense, and bludgeoning merges with wispy trails of groove and up-beat tomfoolery. Though the riffs and progressions are nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary, the album moves with an organic flow that picks up hitchhiking elements of nuance and emotion in the form of subtle riff-changes and treacle-like song development. “Circle of the Dead” is the second of my favorite songs, homing in on melancholy and sullenness with its flittering arpeggios and slower melodic drawl. Though the sludgier elements lack strength and memorability for me, the softer – yet still heavy – aspects of the album are very well done. 3.0/5.0
Gardenstale: Black Tundra’s self-titled is a decent enough slab of post-sludge. Although they don’t deal in innovation, they have the heavy rolling riffs, the harsh bellow and the reverberating dreaminess down pat. As a new band, they sound surprisingly professional, with balanced songwriting and a decent production (a tad loud, but sludge is usually worse.) The tremolo riffing on the title track and the big hook on “Blinded by the Northern Lights” are welcome touches. There’s not much that’s really special about the album, and there’s dozens of better things to listen to in the post-sludge sphere, but as far as unsigned debuts go, Black Tundra is a good, if inoffensive, start. 3.0/5.0
Eldritch Elitist: I’ve joked in the past that post-metal is named as such because it’s about as engaging as studying a blank Post-it. I figured Black Tundra’s Black Tundra (featuring the song “Black Tundra”) would fare especially poorly, as it pairs post-metal with the plodding pace of doom. While not particularly engrossing, it’s surprisingly enjoyable in its best moments. The cavernous, crackling production provides an authentic backdrop to the deep, creeping guitars, and Black Tundra excels when balancing the weighty riffs with post-metal airiness. However, these yin and yang moments are few and far between, and the band too often opts for derivative doom passages that, while adequate, lack character. At thirty-five minutes Black Tundra feels nice and concise, but my apathy towards the style limits my enjoyment of it. Your mileage, of course, may vary. 2.5/5.0
Treble Yell: You must be “this” tall to go on the ride because the precipitous, descending riffs and lurching, churning chords on Black Tundra’s self-titled release are akin to a rickety rollercoaster. Doom, post-metal, Mastodon, Mose Giganticus—the music here is viscous and sludgy, telling its story through mood and abstraction. Vocals are deployed sparingly but the music would be better served if they were eschewed entirely as they are a weak intrusion on an otherwise promising platter of fuzzed-out peyote. Black Tundra sometimes rambles and disengages but when the glass shards fuse to the lead a fascinating stained glass window emerges, casting a strange but compelling diorama of light and shade. A band worth keeping an eye on. 2.5/5.0
Ferrous Beuller: Have you ever met the wild? Blood thins and eyes darken as snow blankets terrain meant to break men, body then soul. So, with Gehenna at your back and only an eternity East of Eden on the horizon, you negotiate one foot in front of the other until infinity ravages you into either something or nothing. No? Me neither. But Poland’s Black Tundra have by all accounts – what else could possibly explain their fusion of be-doomed sludge and road weary Kyuss motifs? Predominantly instrumental, this self-titled debut comes to us beleaguered and introspective and occasionally homogeneous, but with enough riffs and primordial bass lines to tremble this pretentious nonsense from my fingertips. If you happen to be compatible with this kind of elemental archetype, then take Black Tundra by the hand, breath in the ether and close your eyes and walk a thousand years. Recommended. 3.0/5.0
Dr. Wrvm: I don’t typically
stay awake get excited for sludgy doom, and doubly so for post-metal, but Black Tundra defied expectations. Though instrumental for long stretches, the Polish quartet stays interesting by housing running currents of Pallbearer in their heavy fuzz and posty, electronica drum rolls. Diversions into black metal, both traditional (“Black Tundra”) and that new-fangled brand of pep I know everyone loves nowadays (“Blinded by the Northern Lights”), round out the album. On the downside, I doubt the simple direction could keep my attention without their sludgy atmospherics, and constant detachment makes reliable engagement difficult. The standard vocal passages do not stand out compared to the well-developed guitar exploration, but thankfully the latter drives much of the action. Trimmed to a concise 36 minutes, Black Tundra holds my ear far better than I ever expected. 2.5/5.0 Happy Metal Guy: