Sludge metal. Depending on who you ask, it’s either awesome or meh. If you ask me, sludge falls under the hit-or-miss category, with an unfortunate bias towards miss. When everything comes together, e.g. all four records of Beastwars and the first four of Mastodon, the result is usually a monolithic slab of grimy riffs and scathing vocal assaults drowned in the fuzz of the damned. This is a good thing. However, all other times you end up with something about as interesting/enjoyable as room-temperature coffee poured out of a carafe stained as yellow as the dust inside a chain-smoker’s PC. This is a bad thing. With their third offering Bloodstone in my grasp, will French power trio Sycomore stick the landing into The Good Place? Or are they doomed to an early “retirement” in The Bad Place?
Neither. Sycomore are in The Medium Place. Bloodstone is a riff-tastic endeavor, with influences pulled in small doses from all corners of the extreme metal pentagram. Songs are tight and unencumbered by extraneous weight, as is the whole, which clocks in at a tidy forty minutes. Vocals, which are handled by the guitarist (they call him…Tim?) and bassist (who goes by Desta), range between eerie croons to acidic barks to serrated howls. Drummer Guillaume handles kitwork with similar reach, grabbing patterns and beats from all across the metalverse. Sounds pretty good, right? Sludge metal that, on paper, appears to explore boundaries without overburdening the audience with excess material? The unfortunate caveat is that while all of these things about Sycomore are true, the band doesn’t take full advantage of their sonic explorations by supporting them with consistently engaging writing.
Opener “Over My Shoulders” through, and including the fourth track “Power of Romance,” are forgettable songs. Albeit all professionally performed, each case lacks memorability despite moments that should be memorable. For example, the trem-picking and blast beat combo in “Forever Old” feels strangely effective, and picking out the wide array of fun nods to black metal and death metal in “Power of Romance” elevates the listening experience, but all too soon the memories fade away and what remains is a nebulous familiarity with Bloodstone. I hypothesize that the cause of this phenomenon is not that the hooks clearly evident in these tracks aren’t strong enough, rather than the songwriting surrounding those hooks fails to keep them embedded, and therefore the whole loses integrity.
This is not the case with “Knight Coat” through and including the closer “The Web.” Here it seems Sycomore more successfully integrated interesting sections with the main body of each track. Not only that, but many of the riffs, drum fills, and vocal patterns feel sharper as well. The top dog in this set is “The Enemy,” the riff from which refuses to leave me alone. Not kidding, repeating this riff aloud to myself over and over and over again out of sheer muscle memory caused me to lose sleep more than once this past week. “Fireball” similarly stands out due to its relatively novel application of grind attitude, giving the record a shot of adrenaline in the final third. “Fifty-fifty” takes advantage of a simple, but effective doom riffs and noisy cleans to break character just enough to keep interest up without losing album cohesion, and sets the audience up for the high-energy tracks that follow.
Most importantly, the second half of Bloodstone sounds like proper sludge metal in spite of the genre-bending hooks that litter the space. Listening to these later cuts doesn’t put me in mind of other genres right away as the first few entries do. Instead, they bloomed more vibrant in direct proportion to time invested. Unfortunately, the strengths in Sycomore‘s third offering only cancel out an equal allotment of weaknesses, without offering anything more to give to the listener as a return. If you are a big fan of sludge metal and don’t mind a bumpy ride, then by all means enjoy. If your demands are more strict, I suggest picking up something else to satisfy your needs.