The heartiest slabs of sludge evoke a menagerie of crooked emotions. The cranking monotony of a repetitive riff, drenched in reverb and ambient noise, appeals to me at a most basic level. There’s something primal in the galloping crusty thump of a Conan track, something breathtakingly heart-wrenching in the western-tones of an Inter Arma track, something honest, stark and beautiful in the unique patterns of The Melvins. Each band balances creative flair with straight-forward aggression, though. When a voluptuous and extravagant song becomes too self-indulgent a switch to crushing straight-as-an-arrow slabcraft can drag it back into the dirty pits we crave. Conversely, a song can become too monotonous, too repetitive; a tactful leftward tug into more creative, dare we say progressive, territories lifts a song into the lofty heavens that we also crave. A well-crafted combination of these elements is key. Lesser Glow are an intriguing force. Ruined is their fleetingly short debut album: 26-minutes and 6 songs that flow as one. That’s all they give; that’s all we can take.
What it lacks in length it makes up for in depth. Ruined is a multi-faceted record that keeps on revealing juicy new elements listen after listen. This is the strength of such a short release — I can find myself listening to it, without boredom, two or three times in one sitting. As a result, focusing on a different musical element each time — a layering of electronic noise, the jagged riffs and time-shifts, or the chameleon-esque vocals — brings out a range of exciting new sounds. What is instantly audible is the deep, reverberating riffs. These echo from the record like surges from naval mines. Pirouetting around these riffs are subtle rhythm guitar tones that side-step with either a dissonant or blissfully melodic touch. Take the excellent opening track “Ruined” which surges forward blindly before becoming drenched in ambient textures and epic melodies not far removed from a dirtier Pallbearer track. At other times, such as in the crooked sound “Vacant Throne” — a track more audibly fragmented and dissonant, like a less abrasive, slower Pyrrhon — these slabs mutate and move forward like a glitching computer screen, uneven yet mesmeric.
What pushes these songs into even more engrossing territories are the vocals. The male vocalist dips his tongue into many styles, shrieking with sandpaper-in-the-throat vulnerability, bellowing with deep crusty force, and rasping with a blues-led sludge swagger. But, ahead of all this, is the pop-like power of the cleaner segments. These sweet cleans transition from the harsh moments with sweet ease and they’re integrated into key moments of songs cleverly. They’re catchy and memorable. The band are interested in hardcore, post-hardcore, noise-rock, and post-rock as much as they are metal; this is apparent here. The sweet vocals – take the dreamy murmur of the three-minute “Tel Meggido” as a good example — have a similar feeling to the expressive tones of Alexisonfire singer Dallas Green. Similarly, the contrast between brutality and beauty — an element present in Alexisonfire, described as “the sound of two Catholic high-school girls in mid-knife-fight” — is a key element in Ruined. Closer “Under the Polar Shade” opens and closes with fluttering high-pitched guitar melodies and wobbling clean vocals — dreamily post-rock-esque. The slabs of heaviness in between, like a trip into a craggy underworld, overwhelm the mix, but the subtle lightness of the beginning and the end is never completely lost.
There is a problem though and that comes from the production. Before receiving the album I watched a live-in-the-studio recording of “Ruined” and “Under The Polar Shade” posted by the band. Here, the vocals were clear, full-bodied, and well-adjusted to the overall sound of the album. However, the album sounds imbalanced — the clean vocals have a rough-quality that separates itself from the full-bodied instrumentals to such a degree that it sometimes becomes distracting. This is a great shame. Such a small issue can be significant, especially when the line between being average and great is often fine.
Every time I really praise an album I always find myself referring to the following cliche: it ebbs and flows with natural and organic ease. Ruined is extremely well-paced, weaving in various elements at the correct time, including slower, sparser moments when necessary, and building-up to exciting crescendos with tact. Most importantly, there’s a certain degree of uniqueness to their approach which makes this an exciting listen. It’s just a shame about the mix, but what do I know? I have no ears.