2019 was a very good year for doom metal in general. However, I never got to review the real quality stuff, unless you count Hollow Leg which I would call sludge first, doom second. So I set upon Meridians with high hopes to see this changed for the better and claim my slice of the awesome doom pie. Meridians is the third full-length by Virginian atmo-post-sludge-doom trio The Osedax, who have named themselves for a small worm that feeds on the bones of whales at the bottom of the ocean.1 Anything living in the inhuman pressure at the bottom of the ocean is fucking metal, and so is anything that eats nothing but bones, so we’re off to a good start.
Well, The Osedax get one thing right: Meridians feels every bit as heavy and suffocating as their namesake’s habitat. The 4 tracks making up the album, averaging 11 minutes plus change a piece, move like tectonic plates, the riffs slowly shifting and grinding, bass and vocals welling up from the distance. The latter are related to Neurosis‘ style of post-sludge vocal use but buried beneath the waves of guitars, their effect is both haunting and incomprehensible. Occasionally, the weight is lifted for a while, making way for atmospheric interludes, which end with whiplash-inducing plunges into devastating double-kicked earthquakes.
But for all this sound, there isn’t much song to be found. Describing the guitar-work on Meridians is like describing the ocean to a fish; it’s all around you, and you can feel its currents push you around, but you can’t discern any distinct quantities of it. I could not find anything to connect to and had resigned to a middling score. It was then that a pointy-toothed goblin named Kronos jumped on the hood of my car and started screaming about The Osedax being amazing and worthy of Record o’ the Month, comparing it to Hope Drone and Infernal Coil. I managed to chase him away with a squirt bottle and fervent hissing, but his diatribe made me realize something: Meridians is not about the riffs or hooks, it’s about the atmosphere, the thick crushing layers rolling over you. I let go of my preconceptions of riffs and let the down-tuned grinding wash over me, and felt a little better about the record. And then…
…nothing happened. And nothing continued to happen. The problem with The Osedax isn’t as much its lack of riffs, it’s the lack of progression. Opener “Offen” is a good example. It has a few minutes of intro, a huge fat chunk of cataclysmic plodding, and a few minutes of outro. The huge fat chunk has a slower and a faster part, and the transition from the first to the second part is the only moment it feels like the song is progressing; everything else is a horizontal line on the intensity scale. All the individual parts of the music sound great: the quiet ebbing of the bookends, the heavy, driving drums. “Beacon/Ox Eye” cranks up the intensity to 11 after the intro, and it’s lovely to bask in the avalanche after 4 minutes of reverberating plucks. But it feels like flipping from channel to channel without much connection from one to the next, which makes the album lose its unity and feel like a series of unrelated passages rather than coherent tracks, and the individual passages take so long to move on, so my attention span invariably collapses.
The closer “Ratlines” exemplifies this last issue perfectly. In the distance, the goblin Kronos screeches: “The bass has a bunch of super cool natural harmonies in that track!” And yes, yes it does. And that’s the only thing that happens for over seven minutes straight, and it goes from cool to overindulgent to bloated. Perhaps my attention span is just weak (though my #3 ranking of Slow last year suggests otherwise). Certainly, Kronos seems to hear something I do not, and Dear Hollow has come out in support of his assessment as well. But the beauty of our little corner of the internet is that there will always be eternal strife and disagreements between the two dozen writers filling it, and with my short attention span firmly in check, I am forced to come to a different conclusion than the goblin. The Osedax is a very promising outfit, and there is a lot to like in Meridians’ murky, moody morasses of steadily stomping sludge. But without better buildup, transitions and progression, it can’t sustain itself long enough to truly shine.