Recently, I had the most fucked-up dream that I was in a Pirates of the Carribean film,1 and I was stranded on a floating raft in the ocean with Captain Jack Sparrow, but instead of Johnny Depp, he was portrayed by a Depp-alike, Nightwish‘s Tuomas Holopainen. Awestruck by the sudden-switcheroo, I belted out a beautiful sea shanty, and just as I was wrapping up my second go-’round of “HAMSTER! A DENTIST! HARD PORN! STEVEN SE-GAAAAAAL!“, Holopainen, parrot on his shoulder, relayed to me that I was already dead, and proceeded to finger-poke me about a million times before my head exploded.2 As I slowly sank into the ocean, I could hear two things: Holopainen’s parrot repeatedly calling me a dick and the slow, sludgy riffs brought on by Canadian upstarts Cruickshank.
An amalgamation of sludgy riffs, frantic drumming, and some caustic vocals by Graham Christian that recalls a beloved British band with the word “iron” in their name,3 Cruickshank‘s debut throws an awful lot of thematically disparate sounds together, but they mostly mesh decently. Opener “Clouded” sounds like a bastard mix of Helmet‘s earlier days blended with modern-day Clutch and bits of Nasum, especially in Mark McGee’s chaotic drumming. In fact, McGee’s creative use of cymbal-work (especially on album highlight “To Swine”), frantic blasts from out of nowhere, impeccable grooves, and stop-on-a-dime rhythm changes (which litter the entire album) mark him as a drummer to keep an eye on, as he’s fast on the same path to drum stardom laid before by the likes of Brann Dailor.
But while the album doesn’t contain a single dud, it does have a problem with retaining memorable pieces that stay with you once the album ends, McGee’s performances notwithstanding. While it’s playing, Cruickshank remains an enjoyable, fun romp through sludgy, grimy, and grindy neighborhoods. But with the exceptions of the above, trying to recall a particular hook remains problematic. Too much of this album just blends together. Another problem lies in the pacing. Once brief instrumental “Soviet Reunion” winds down, I’m already mentally checked out, and there’s still another two songs remaining. When you have such an incredible adrenaline high (like “To Swine”), the crash coming immediately after (“Alexandria,” “Soviet Reunion”) can feel more than a little jarring.
Not as jarring as the production, however. In short, Cruickshank is squashed tighter than a vacuum-sealed package of tofu. I had a difficult time picking out the bass for the majority of the album, and McGee’s drums, while powerful, have a little too much distortion in the cymbals. The guitar also doesn’t quite cut or hit with the same heft that’s necessary in sludge or grindcore, and this is a band that’s trying to marry both sounds harmoniously. But for a self-released debut, Cruickshank contains an epic ton of promise.
Harsh as this reads, I’m keeping an eye on Cruickshank, because while the album doesn’t stick much, the level of talent on display here makes an intriguing case for future albums. With some tightening up of the songwriting, and a production that won’t hulk-smash the life out of it, good things will definitely come for them. For a debut, Cruickshank might not be an immediate go-to, but I’ve heard far, far worse. And besides, I’m sure I’ll need a soundtrack to coincide with my dreams involving Ghost in the Seashell, the heartwarming tale of AR13L, a singing cyber-mermaid sent by the Japanese government to violently stop criminals the world over.
DR: 4 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Releases Worldwide: August 16th, 2019