Curse the Son – Excruciation Review

Character, they say, is forged in adversity. Or at least that’s what management tells me every time I see myself rostered for yet another shift in the AMG Skull Pit™. Curse the Son know all about adversity, having had a constantly rotating line-up since the band formed in 2008. In addition, bassist Brendan O’Keefe suffered extensive injuries after a motorcycle accident in November 2018, necessitating a long road back to recovery. Basically, a lot of shit has happened to the band since the release of 2017’s Isolator, and Curse the Son is ready to tell you all about it. This is where new release, Excruciation, comes in. Sporting an old-school brand of bluesy, doomy, extremely heavy metal, the album blends the sound of classic acts like Sabbath and Candlemass with the stoner sheen of Kyuss.  This, the band’s fourth LP, is a dark tale of tragedy, pain, but ultimately resilience; a testament to a group of musicians unbowed by the vagaries of life. A great story, we can all agree, but does the music match the mythos?

Excruciation is clearly intended as a journey, mirroring perhaps the troubled one the band has recently endured. Opener “Suicide by Drummer” begins with the lines, “There is no future/ It’s just fantasy” but by the album’s end, on “Phoenix Risin’,” Curse the Son hopefully intones, “Spread your wings and fly/ There’s a sky above you.” The intervening songs tell the story of how despair can morph into a flicker of hope. Regarding those first and last tracks, they are unquestionably the highlights of the album, showcasing Curse the Son at their crunchy, compelling best: thick grooves combined with meaty riffs, juiced with enough momentum that the songs don’t get bogged down. “Phoenix Risin,’” in particular, is a stomper, driven by one of the best hooks you’ll hear all year. If the rest of the album were like these tracks, we would be in classic territory. Unfortunately, what comes between these two stellar bookends just can’t match up. Like a baby elephant trapped in a deep mud-hole, the middle section of Excruciation becomes distressingly bogged down. “Disaster in Denial,” “Novembre,” and “Worry Garden” are all plodding numbers, even by stoner-doom standards. This is fine if the riffs and melodies are compelling enough, but here they simply aren’t. The lack of ear worms and discernible hooks makes them tiresome rather than crushing, and ultimately a grind to get through.

The other concerning aspect is the lack of payoff. Long songs are listenable if there’s a sense they’re going somewhere. Too often, unfortunately, Curse the Son maintains the same level intensity right throughout their tracks. This has the effect of being both dull and somewhat numbing, as illustrated by “Black Box Warning,” which lumbers along aimlessly with a dense atmosphere and unmemorable riffs. It fails to really go anywhere interesting before awkwardly shifting gear to a rapid final minute that sounds like it’s from a completely different track. Song dynamics got lost somewhere, and Excruciation suffers because of it.

On the plus side, in addition to the aforementioned tracks, there are great moments scattered throughout Excruciation, mostly in its latter half. “Devil Doctor Blues,” a simple solo number, has a cool, confident swagger that would suit any smoky bar. “Infinite Regression” manages to successfully capture the combination of crushing and catchy that the band is aiming for. Here, due to clever tempo changes and a tasty riff, the oppression is compelling rather than dull. The production throughout does a nice job of capturing the stoner sheen without sacrificing the heavy grit of the music.

Excruciation bears the scars of an album with a long, interrupted and troubled gestation. It’s supremely dark, but it lacks the hooks or momentum to make this darkness compelling. Too often, especially in its middle section, it gets bogged down in a lethargic pace that it only recovers from right at the album’s end. It’s a work forged in adversity, and while we are all grateful that Brendan O’Keefe and Curse the Son are back making music, there are only hints on Excruciation of what the band is actually capable of. Hopefully this is the first few tentative steps of a full journey that lies ahead, because “Phoenix Risin’” shows us how awesome that journey could be.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Ripple Music
Websites:  |
Releases Worldwide: June 12th, 2020

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