If it wasn’t obvious already, dynamic UK duo Slugdge is the real-fucking deal. Across their first three LP’s Slugdge shook off any suggestion they were a flash in the pan gimmick band, moving in advanced directions beyond their strange and humorous slug-obsessed philosophy and creative song title puns, to forge a wonderfully versatile and fiercely unique extreme metal hybrid. From modest cult heroes, Slugdge are now on the cusp of entering the big leagues. Esoteric Malacology comes with the increased expectation from their ever snowballing fan-base and raised profile under the banner of Willowtip Records, having previously stuck to their guns as DIY specialists. If anything Slugdge‘s output has grown in stature over time, so does their pivotal fourth LP manage to meet expectations of their cosmic slug journey, or is their slimy ascendancy beginning to dry out?
Although it’s easy to view Slugdge‘s trippy slug tales in all their tongue-in-cheek glory, the band appear to put a hell of a lot of thought and zany ideas into their narratives. A fascinating recent interview with the duo also revealed a darker underbelly to the band, including a history of mental health issues and a long journey built on hard work and persistence before Matt Moss and Kev Pearson finally began earning well deserved support and recognition as their shared talents and chemistry birthed the unique and always evolving Slugdge sound. Esoteric Malacology continues Slugdge‘s impeccable track record and is a marvelous example of the remarkable compositional skills and songwriting smarts of its creators. Slugdge continue refining and mutating their gritty blend of death, prog, tech, and doom with blackened and thrashy touches and soaring melody, expertly spinning the disparate elements into knotty, dense compositions with epic hooks and razor-sharp execution. “War Squids” opens the album in potent style, sounding positively upbeat and infectious as lively double bass and zany prog-death riffs feature prominently across the song’s jagged, multi-faceted landscape.
Esoteric Malacology feels like the band’s most adventurous, complex and progressive album yet, a supreme showcase of their advancing technical prowess and unmatched ability to boggle minds and penetrate brainwaves with rousing hooks, such as the earworm specials featured on “Slave Goo World” and the colossal progressive death of “The Spectral Burrows.” Death metal remains at the heart of Esoteric Malacology but such diverse ground is covered musically that the album transcends straightforward genre pigeon-holing. The dueling guitar work is a massive strength, exploring varied terrain. Eerie harmonies lend the album a strange atmospheric vibe, uneasy melodies soar through the chaos, while the album comes packed with a ridiculous amount of technical skill, ripping solos and penetratingly catchy death riffs and prog oddities. “Putrid Fairytale” features a bit of everything in the Slugdge repertoire, its angular, prog-tinged riffs offset by potent blast beats, viscous mid-paced grooves, booming vocal melodies and killer shreddage. On the album’s penultimate track, Slugdge open the melodic and progressive gateways in spectacular fashion on the doomy, psychedelic and riff-laden slow build of the epic “Salt Thrower.”
The sensational “Crop Killer” can’t escape mention either and is a masterclass of trippy, riff-driven metal perfection. Matt Moss continues to rival the likes of Anaal Nathrakh‘s Dave Hunt in vocal versatility, punctuating densely packed songs with soaring cleans and a barrage of hearty screams and growls. Even the programmed drums sound a little more natural and organic than I recall them sounding previously. The production retains the gritty edge of their previous work but is bolstered by slightly cleaner, heftier tones and a far more dynamic mastering job. Esoteric Malacology’s weighty song lengths and run-time do create a challenge to process and absorb such meaty, dense material. But despite minimal bloating, the album rarely relents or loses focus, though the sheer weight and complexity of the material can be a little overwhelming to wrap your head around. However, these are very minor nitpicks when considering the album’s overall quality.
Esoteric Malacology is a brutal, malevolent, brilliant and deliciously warped addition to an increasingly stellar body of work. Yet despite spending substantial time with the album, I feel like there is so much more to discover, a scary proposition considering the high regard I already hold the album in. Slugdge‘s continual evolution is nothing short of astounding and in my humble opinion, they have elevated themselves to the elite in the modern metal scene. Esoteric Malacology is essential listening and perhaps their finest work to date. So jump on the bandwagon and praise Mollusca motherfuckers!