In the big and scary world of progressive music, fusion jazz is definitely among the most divisive. The heady complexity of the riffs, the drums that jerk back and forth with different tempos and measures and the structural integrity of a house of cards constructed by a madman often invite words like showing off, musical masturbation, or simply wanking. Myself, I’ve found I can enjoy it perfectly well in contained doses, as long as the songwriting doesn’t let the wank fly off the handles. I enjoy the playfulness and the surprises inherent in the ricocheting of rhythms and the mad measures. It’s what attracted me in the latest Disperse album as well. So when I heard Slagduster play a left field mixture of fusion jazz-like riffing with spin-on-a-dime signatures and a sludgy groove metal sound, I wasn’t taken aback right away. Weird combos and ADHD riffs? Let’s hear it!
Well, the ADHD is certainly strong with this one. Deadweight is an antsy album, the riffs bouncing off each other, switching from one to the next at a moment’s notice. The unpredictability is the main appeal here, as the songs go from crushing groove to lighthearted plucking to short bursts of aggression to tapped out solos that make your head spin, all in the space of 30 seconds. The performances on the guitars and drums are especially commendable, as it never feels like the band has to overreach to keep track of the time.
Which makes it a shame the rest of the album never really comes together, because while the band is pretty good with all the fiddly details, they have trouble with the larger picture. “Mother’s Milk” is one of the most coherent songs in the list and even that one has a tendency to fall apart into a collection of riffs and fills. There’s plenty of individual moments I enjoy, like the bouncy riff that opens up “Profane Puppets,” the fluidity of the solos, or the closing highlight “Untouchable” which sports both a groovy dragged-out lead and some furious tremolo work.
Zooming out further, the incoherency causes all the songs to gel together. No track stands out from the others, apart from a riff that may pop up along the mess as particularly noteworthy, but they rarely stay around long enough to set any particular song apart. Coming back to the opening paragraph, I like the playfulness of jazzy riffs, but songwriting needs to be on point to prevent the endeavor from collapsing into an ungodly jumble. This is where Slagduster drops the ball, and never picks it back up, from the first note to the last.
To add further insult to injury, the vocals are simply not of the same quality as the instrumentation. The earthy sludge-based screams would be a great counterpoint to the flight of the guitars and drums, but they are executed in a thin and clenched fashion. There’s not enough body to the growl and they lack any variation in the delivery, defaulting to ‘always kind of angry.’ As such, they add to the monotony caused by the over-eager instrumental madness, rather than balance out the lack of recognizability.
The production is another unfortunate demerit. Of course, there is the usual loudness complaint, something sludge-related genres always have issues with. The rather abominable DR4 has some spotty clipping problems, but the fatigue is dampened somewhat by a clear mix. However, an unexpected problem arises in its stead: the different layers feel quite separated from one another, especially the drums and guitars. It’s like each was mixed individually and merely played simultaneously. A large part of this is the shitty tin-can snare sound that seems to actively repulse the other tracks in the mix. It’s a distracting issue that the band can not recover from.
All these complaints make it seem like I hate the record, but I truly don’t. While so many albums struggle with inspiration and ideas, Deadweight has plenty. But it’s such a letdown seeing all those ideas go to waste, lost amidst incoherent songwriting, mediocre vocals and a jumbled and flawed production. There is simply no redemption possible, no matter the skill of instrumental execution or merits of individual riffs. Slagduster have promise, but there is a ton of work to do before that promise can become a reality.