There’s a moment after a slow build intro, just shy of two minutes into “Beyond the Plague” that stands as a thesis statement for The Last Journey, the sophomore album by Portugal’s Soul of Anubis, if not for the entire genre of sludge metal: create a sound so thick and heavy, that when it fully hits, it causes a wobble in the Earth’s rotation. Thousands of years from now, scientists would trace the formation of the great Canadian deserts and Antarctic rain forests to that slight rotational wobble, and the “Anubicene” would enter scientific vernacular. This scenario may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, because front to back, The Last Journey is indeed seismically heavy. But in an age of bands constantly redefining the word, is that enough to secure a spot in the geological record of metal?
If you’re just going by advanced singles “Beyond the Plague” and “Shade of Oblivion,” The Last Journey would be a fine example of how massive sludge doom and burly hardcore can deliver a filthy knuckle sandwich along the lines of Mastiff‘s ugly screed from earlier this year. This is a bit misleading, as almost the entirety of the remaining songs leave any trace of doom behind and instead deliver aggressive sludge’n’roll with plenty of straight—though I doubt straight edge—hardcore. Distinguishing characteristics include guitarist/vocalist Hugo Ferrao’s gravel laden shouts, which are damn manly if unvaried, and Rui Silva’s consistently sharp and occasionally ritualistic drumming. Add in bassist Speeds Almeida and it’s frankly incredible what an enormous sound three people can make.
As on much of the album, “Black Mountain” is a showcase for Silva. Production-wise, the mix places drums right in the center of the action, which is a bit of a rarity for a genre that often sacrifices other elements in the name of highly viscous guitar tone. Across “Black Mountain,” Silva alternately thunders, stutters and swaggers his way through subtle shifts in an otherwise straight forward rager of a track. His fills are varied but uncomplicated, and in spite of obvious hardcore influences, he never dips into D beat predictability. His precision and power is impressive throughout, as are his band mates’ contributions, but as the album wears on, the sauntering pace of those early doomy tracks are missed as one driving rhythm follows another.
As sharp as Soul of Anubis‘ execution is, The Last Journey bogs down significantly somewhere around “Emperor.” While not a bad track, it begins a stretch of album where every song’s raging stomp bleeds into the next. Ferrao’s resentful shouts pile up into a repetitive refrain of bile until you’re mentally posting the “Stop! Stop! He’s already dead!” Simpsons meme somewhere around “The King.” It doesn’t help that Soul of Anubis tend to bury their best riffs two-thirds of the way through each song, opting instead for rhythmic grooving that leaves little room for memorable moments to interrupt the sustained aggression. When the onslaught finally relaxes midway through final song “The Last Journey,” a majority of the album has passed in what seems like a single blast. When the doom finally returns with two minutes of run time to spare, it serves as an odd, vocal-less outro that covers the entire second half of the song.
Shortcomings in songwriting and album composition means The Last Journey falls into my “salvage for playlists” category. For those who want their sludge combative rather than languid, there’s much to like here. Soul of Anubis does indeed pack a huge sludgy wallop, but if I have trouble remembering most of the songs after the album stops playing, I’m guessing that, geological heaviness or no, they’re unlikely to wind up the namesake of any distant epochs.