Heron – Time Immemorial Review

The AMG staff room—virtual only at the moment, of course, with even time in skull pit restricted to one scribe at a time—is divided sharply on sludge as a genre. Some of the hacks view it as tedious, talentless and almost beneath contempt. They are, of course, wrong. Those holding the correct view, including Cherd’s magnificent beard and yours truly, have a huge soft spot for its crushingly abrasive doom-laden awesomeness. And it’s just as well for East Vancouver natives, Heron, that it’s me reviewing this, and not one of those haters. Time Immemorial—that is, give or take a few geological ages, roughly when this fucking lockdown began—is the Canadian quartet’s second full-length and follows 2018’s A Low Winter’s Sun. A decent start though that debut was, it felt a little rough around the edges, drifting somewhat aimlessly between doom and something closer to hardcore-tinged post-metal. Two years on, have Heron locked down their sound, or has the passage of time seen them wander further from the path?

Opening in crawling, oppressive tones, laden with intent, Time Immemorial reminded me at first blush of Beak’s Let Time Begin, and that’s a very good thing.1 As Heron warm up and begin to get into their groove, so the tempo increases, and the big, angular riffs take on something resembling a chug. As sludge goes, there are sections of Time Immemorial that have a real, compelling energy, which has undoubted punk influences (“Boiling Ancient Light”). Combined with the rasping shrieks and coarse bellows of the vocalist Jamie Stilborn, Time Immemorial is what I think you might get if Zao were to cover Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean…or vice versa for that matter.

Time Immemorial feels a bit more polished—if you can ever describe sludge as polished2—and consistent than Heron’s debut. On their first outing, the band seemed uncertain whether they wanted to play a brand of post-metal or fully commit to sludge and, while I would have been fine with either direction, the indecision let down A Low Winter’s Sun a little. There is no such prevarication on Time Immemorial, as crushing doom riffing does battle with uncomplicated but effective drumming, mountains of feedback and restrained electronic elements. While Heron operate for the most part in the mid-tempo (“Death on the Malahat” or “Void Eater”), some of the most effective moments on the album are when they slow things right down to an almost funereal crawl. In these moments, like “Long in Tooth” and “Endless,” which respectively open and close the record, Heron create a brooding intensity that still retains the brutally rough edge to their sound.

A relatively trim 37 minutes, Heron’s sophomore effort has little fat on it, although if there is any, it’s penultimate track, a cover of Entombed’s “Wolverine Blues,” which feels out of place for me. It’s not a bad cover and, standing at only two and a half minutes, its inclusion is certainly not fatal to Time Immemorial, but it just doesn’t feel like it belongs. It misses the vicious intensity and weight that the rest of the record carries. This is thrown into sharp relief as “Wolverine Blues” gives way to the lone, epically slow guitar that opens “Endless.” The production on Time Immemorial also favors the rougher end of the sludge spectrum, with reverb on high and a dirty edge to the guitar sound. There’s nothing wrong with this per se and I don’t mind the production choices (although the drums are loud) but, lacking as it does the clarity of Warcrab’s outstanding Damned in Endless Night, it makes it harder for the riffs to be truly memorable.

Heron have definitely upped their game since their debut. Time Immemorial is a solid album, with a real intensity to much of its material, as crushing, sludgy riffs crash around the beautifully harsh vocals. Apart from the one cover track that doesn’t really belong, there are no real missteps here but at the same time, standout moments are in short supply. There is no doubt that Heron have the talent but I’m not convinced they have quite reached their potential on Time Immemorial.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Sludgelord Records
Websites: heronsludge.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/heronsludge
Releases Worldwide: May 15th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Don’t let the 2.5 ‘we’ awarded to Let Time Begin fool you, that record is solid as fuck.
  2. You can’t. – Steel
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