When one talks roads, at least in Europe, the German Autobahns are generally considered the peak of vehicular infrastructure. By contrast, British motorways are rarely held up as an example of anything other than traffic jams, to the point that the London orbital motorway, the M25, may actually have been redesigned by Hell (at least according to Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens). I have spent many a night, wishing I was anywhere but stuck in my car on the M25. Never, however, have I wished that someone take your average British motorway as musical inspiration. In complete disregard of my wishes, Bristol, UK band The Road have done just that. On this, their self-released debut, Reverence Redacted, the Bristolian two-piece draw on the “crushing oppressiveness of the British motorway experience”—personally, I would say “soul-crushing oppressiveness”—to inspire their post-doom offering.
Spread across only six tracks, including a short-ish intro, Reverence Redacted’s 43 minutes still feel like an expansive, sprawling journey. While this is a record built around oppressive, droning heaviness with intermittent rises in tempo, it’s not entirely lacking in melody. Its focus is very much on distorted, feedback-heavy post-doom, however. Where The Road do take the speed up, in particular on “Gyro Electro Destroyer,” they do so with a down-tuned, bass-led abrasiveness that gathers momentum and, at times, approaches a groove. I say “take the speed up,” but this is relative, as we never get out of third or, at a push, fourth gear.1 In the slower sections, melody drifts in and out of The Road’s lanes of glacial riffs and dissonance, like a drunk driver weaving down a motorway. Over it all, guitarist Rob Duncan and drummer Steve Roberts both take to the mic, offering a gruffly shouted and bellowed dual-vocal attack.
The Road‘s sludgy, post-doom, draws heavily on genre stalwarts Neurosis, as well as some of rawness of Eyehategod and tinges of early Australasia-era Pelican as well, particularly in Reverence Redacted’s sparing use of melody. While slow, crushing heaviness predominates, The Road is more than the sum of its two parts, with subtle flickers of other influences on show too. A trip-hop appears in the percussion on “Surface of the Sun,” a spoken word—more accurately, a spoken numbers—section brings “Implode” to a stuttering, grinding halt before it smashes back into life with a big post-metal riff, and hypnotic feedback loops reminiscent of Sunn 0))) make the latter stages of “Strensham” oppressively claustrophobic.
The Road come up short in two respects, however, making this a promising, as opposed to really good, album. First, despite both Duncan and Roberts tackling vocals, there is little to tell between them. With two guys on mic duty, I’d have hoped to hear some variety and different styles in the delivery, but this is largely lacking. My second criticism goes to the fullness of sound, or rather the lack of it. The Road succeed in creating a textured, engaging broodiness in the melodic, stripped back passages but when they crank up the heaviness, slamming into sludgy, doomy gear, Reverence Redacted doesn’t always achieve the all-consuming wall of sound that I want to hear from this genre. That is in part because the bass is sometimes too high in the mix, detracting from the attack of the guitar. It may also be a limitation of The Road being a two-man show. Production-wise, Reverence Redacted sounds solid enough but it is at times overly reliant on feedback to create heaviness, where more layering of the guitar work might serve them better.
My time on The Road has actually been more enjoyable than I initially expected. On first listen, I was pretty underwhelmed by Reverence Redacted. Perhaps I was distracted by my phone or perhaps this was just one of those drives you need time to relax into. Either way, there is more subtlety on show here than my first spin suggested. For a self-released debut, there is a lot to like about Reverence Redacted but it’s a record that also suffers from limitations, making this, in UK parlance, more an A road, than a motorway. That said, The Road show a lot of promise and, if I lived closer to Bristol—and hadn’t just had surgery on my Achilles tendon2—I would likely turn up for the album launch gig.