I love sludge metal. The sludgier the better. I want my sludge to sound like that shit the Uruk-hai are pulled out of when they’re born. I want to feel like I’m trying to wade through rancid peanut butter up to my waist while those same Uruk-hai chase me when I listen to sludge. Honestly, It’s hard to believe the simple pleasure found in a slow, monstrously heavy sludge riff isn’t universal. Imagine my surprise when, upon taking this gig, I discovered that some of my fellow writers, including our illustrious boss, were never-sludgers1. As I’ve endured their hurtful, anti-sludge rhetoric, I’ve noticed a frequent correlation between sludge hating and symphonic power cheese-loving. As no lover of metallic brie myself, I’m left to wonder if we’re hardwired at the genetic level into these camps just as research suggests we may be similarly inclined toward progressive or conservative politics, or to see a blue and black dress versus the mouth breathing, evolutionary dead-ends who see a gold and white dress.2 I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re team sludge and wary of anti-sludge sentiment within the body metallic, you’ve got a man on the inside. So let’s wade together into the muck of Charlene Beretah‘s new album Ram. Never-sludgers need not apply.
Ram is the debut full-length by this Swiss three-piece, and you should probably get up to date on your shots before pressing play. There’s an Eyehategod nastiness covering their Yobish song structures, along with a crust punk sensibility that puts this in the same sonic neighborhood as Morne. This crustiness is especially pronounced in the two shortest songs, six-minute “My Dream” and the two-minute, thirty-second scorcher “Amazing Disgrace,” which at times is almost straight hardcore. The remaining songs are more in line with what one expects from sludge doom in 2019: huge riffs, caustic atmosphere, tortured vocals and all pushing the ten-minute mark.
The sound Charlene Beretah conjures on Ram is positively filthy. This is partly due to the clear influence of their Louisiana forebearers. In fact, they capture that southern swagger well in the first half of “Call of Darkness,” but even when they aren’t aping the sound of the swamp, it’s bassist Guillaume who ensures the sludge stays viscous. His rusty rumble underpins every riff and will give you a bad case of tetanus by the time closer “Murder Game” fades out. There are a few cleaner moments to add variety, notably on album lynchpin “Hurt,” which strips things down to their most Yob-like while adding minimal guitar passages a la Isis. After eight-plus minutes of an almost lethargic push and pull, the track goes off like a bomb. Behind an intense riff, vocalist Arnaud implores in a deranged shriek, “I’m sorry, please don’t love me! I’m sure baby, I can’t bring you happiness!” over and over. The sentiment feels much more alarming than it does sad or romantic.
While I find the sound on Ram quite satisfying, the songwriting could use a little refinement. Aside from the purposeful, tight compositions of “Hurt” and “Amazing Disgrace,” the songs here are more like a series of interesting passages stitched together. There are plenty of tempo shifts and riff changes, but they don’t always seem to follow a logic other than “there should be a change here.” Many of the riffs tend to be minimal and repetitive, which in itself is not a problem, but this can be abused a bit as on final track “Murder Game,” weakest of the five, which has about four minutes of ideas stretched out to three times that length.
Charlene Beretah is a young band that shows a lot of promise with Rams. Their sound is immediate, heavy and nauseating, which is perfect for fans of crusty sludge. The songwriting might not be tight or clever enough to win any fans who aren’t already inclined toward the genre, but there are great bones to build on here. I, for one, will be watching for their follow up.