Despite what the band and album name may conjure up, Salt and Rot by God Root is not the latest word in primal vegan cuisine. What we have instead is the second release from the Pennsylvanian quintet, a sludgy, post-metal mediation that sings of soil and sky and man’s connection to both. Helmed by ex-Sadgiqacea vocalist/drummer Fred Grabosky, God Root plant their seeds in the furrow ploughed by Neurosis, meaning lots of rumbling atmospherics and disenfranchised chords. For some, this is all one needs to make an informed purchasing decision. For everyone else, this isn’t enough, not when we’re drowning in a sea of post-metal bands. God Root will need to produce something special if they hope to be heard above the din of their contemporaries.
Salt and Rot is comprised of four tracks, playing out at 5:51, 13:50, 6:11 and 7:38 in that order. Aside from some distant chanting, the first cut is an instrumental, the second one full-fledged, repeated twice. This flow isn’t far removed from a poetry stanza, following the classic ABAB rhyme format, although the music is looser and more chaotic than this would suggest. Still, I was intrigued if this was by design and a glance at their 2016 self-titled EP bears a striking resemblance: four tracks, 2:28, 12:32, 2:48 and 10:04 respectively. And just to hammer the point home, Sadgiqacea’s last album, False Prism is a kissing-cousin with a musical quad that sings a similar refrain: 8:40, 10:23, 6:06 and 14:44. Grabosky, whether due to composition or mathematical curiosity, clearly has a structure in mind for how he wants his music presented but does this approach net any tangible benefits? As much as I’d like to report that Salt and Rot is a resounding success I found it a struggle to maintain my interest due to the unfocused nature of the music.
Before I dive into a dissection of the album’s shortcomings, I want to sing the praise of the final track, “Conscious Disease.” Grabowsky mentions in an interview how this track presents a tempestuous dialogue between three personas, running the gamut from bitter spoken word to bellicose roaring. The bass-led focus coupled with the slap-dash percussion made me think of Helmet, especially once the violent chords plunged into the track one-third of the way through. This is where God Root find their zen, skilfully binding dissonance with tight song-writing. That “Conscious Disease” is the only track I looked forward to over my many listening sessions also proved to be Salt and Rot’s undoing. When a record only contains one or two strong tracks, the listener will gloss over anterior songs on their way to their favourite. This impatience reduces decent songs to ambivalence and mediocre ones to contempt. When the anticipated track is the final one on an album, like it is here, the preceding songs might as well cease to exist.
The remainder of Salt and Rot flitters between unremarkable and insignificant. The music offers little stimuli and often comes off as a poor-man’s Old Man Gloom. “From Hounds to Silent Skies” makes some attempts at relevancy with its layered approach to vocals, blending chants, whispers and bearded bellowing typical of the genre. The lackadaisical composition of the music, with chords stumbling like a drunkard against a dreamlike ambience is bearable up to a point, but considering the track’s overindulgent 14-minute length it becomes a chore to drum up any enthusiasm by the end.
God Root don’t make any real blunders on the album but neither do they offer anything that makes them stand out in an already over-stuffed genre. Post-metal will never be accused of offering high-octane thrills so some level of meandering disassociation will always be present in the music, but when the majority of an album’s brief running time is lost in a fog, like it is with Salt and Rot, making a return trip becomes hard to justify.