For better and worse, sludge metal has branched out considerably beyond the abrasive and uncompromising early years of the genre, defined by the likes of The Melvins, Eyehategod, Grief, the underappreciated Iron Monkey and boundary busting legends Acid Bath. Increased diversity and scene saturation has polluted the genre pool, leading to interesting yet inconsistent results and mixed feelings from yours truly. North Carolina’s Bedowyn fit squarely into the new school category of modern sludge bands, drawing inspiration from usual suspects Mastodon and Red Album-era Baroness, boosted by a healthy dose of melody and groove. It’s highly listenable stuff from another young sludge band favoring an accessible songwriting approach and livelier rhythmic bounce to go with their thick riffs, beefy drums, hoarse yells and rough clean singing.
As ear friendly as the band’s debut full-length Blood of the Fall sounds, it doesn’t lack punch, heaviness or conviction. Bedowyn reveal a burly edge and bluesy swagger, eschewing the poppy sensibilities that has overly sweetened pockets of the sludge scene in recent years. “The Horde” sets off an extremely effective and ominous, feedback drenched atmosphere, booting the album into gear before seguing into first proper song “Rite to Kill,” a catchy number sporting busy jackhammer percussion, colorful guitar work and the diverse and burly singalong vocals of frontman/guitarist Alex Traboulsi. The song stretches beyond the five minute mark, managing to maintain interest through a tight, interesting structure and the rather inventive and silky guitar work of Traboulsi and impressive lead guitarist Mark Peters. The duo’s tasty tandem work lifts Bedowyn above the middle-of-the-road sludge pack and elevates them beyond the more derivative aspects of their sound. When confidently shredding outside the norm and exploring a variety of textures and proggy flourishes, Bedowyn sound all the more interesting, especially when coupled with strong harmonies and a handful of rocking solos to compliment their boisterous sludge riffs.
Things improve upon the solid beginning with the upbeat bluster and stronger metallic surge of the title track featuring a versatile and inspired vocal performance and rowdier burst of sludge metal might. Easing in via a slow building acoustic melody and killer psychedelic guitar work, “Cotards Blade” rumbles with energy and vigor, weaving some epic folk and trad metal influences into their upbeat style of bruising vocal driven sludge metal. It’s a superb tune that really shows off Bedowyn’s considerable talents and benefits from not being trapped by genre confines, upping the tempo and aggression to boiling point. “Leave the Living for Dead” is a catchy tune and worthy rocker full of interesting harmonies and quirky basslines, marred by its derivative debt to early Baroness. Although the strong first half trumps the uneven second, credit to Bedowyn for embracing their more adventurous side during the album’s second half, which also boasts a couple of cracking tunes in galloping faster numbers “I am the Flood” and “Lord of the Suffering.”
The high quality present on a handful of tunes would have been welcome across the board, however despite some weaker spots and less engaging moments, mostly the material stays on the right side of solid. I guess that’s where the frustrations creep in. Here’s an album loaded with strong performances, interesting songwriting and a handful of really great moments, dragged down by a few less powerful and remarkable songs and production that’s obnoxiously loud and devoid of the dynamics and subtlety required on the album’s softer moments, particularly on acoustic drenched breather “For a Fleeting Moment” and the restrained first half of the uneven “Halfhand.” Once more the excessive loudness seems to subconsciously add unnecessary length to the album, dulling the impact of the more positive sonic aspects, such as the thick weighty slice of the guitars and general fullness of the rhythm section.
Clearly Bedowyn is a band with potential to burn and the songwriting talent and instrumental chops to match. When they stir outside ingredients into their sludge stew the results are quite diverse and appealing. If they are able to write an album’s worth of tunes marked with the high quality of the strongest cuts here the future looks very bright indeed. Until then, Blood of the Fall is a solid example of accessible modern sludge, highlighted by a few genuine bangers.