I admire bands with the guts to take creative risks and incorporate different styles and influences into their sound. However, meshing different genres is often fraught with danger. Bold experimentation and genre splicing often results in bands going off the deep end, with the finished output dissolving into a stewy mess of incoherence and forced songwriting. So it’s refreshing to discover a band that can cohesively pull off such an oddball amalgam of sounds and influences in the innovative way UK duo Slugdge manage on their second full-length album, Gastronomicon. First and foremost, Matt Moss and Kev Pearson possess a curious and perhaps unhealthy fascination with all things slug related. The silvery trail of tongue-in-cheek humor, snappy puns and trippy artwork adds another element of intrigue into what is an undoubtedly strange yet compelling slab of extremity. I’m not sure where this fascination stems from but it certainly fits in with the wacky aural assault the band unleash, and to be honest it’s nice to find a band willing to play up their oddball sense of humor in an all too serious extreme metal scene.
Musically speaking, Slugdge mean serious business, crafting a sound that runs the gamut from blackened blasts and scything tremolo melodies, to thrashy melodeath riffing, acidic sludge and robust death grooves. Even still, this only scratches the surface of Slugdge’s unique formula. There’s plenty of random yet fluid time changes, unorthodox riffage and strange harmonies scattered throughout the album, while the vocals have a shape shifting versatility that occasionally recalls the work of Dave Hunt. Vocalist Matt Moss has quite the impressive range, providing the perfect foil for Slugdge’s corrosive, mutating songs to thrive. He deploys all manner of beastly growls, hoarse yells and unhinged screams, but it’s his unexpected cleans that erupt through the chaos that prove especially impactful. How they are utilized is another impressive aspect, often cropping up at unexpected moments and lending an uneasy dose of hooky melodicism into the band’s grimy sound. The strong vocal melodies, memorable riffs and gnarled grooves peppering the album offset the more aggro, frenetic elements of Slugdge’s songwriting, setting off a catchy counterpoint to the band’s out there weirdness. Narrowing down specific influences is seemingly futile considering the fiercely unique nature of Gastronomicon, but names like Anaal Nathrakh, Gorguts and Cephalic Carnage, by way of Gothenburg, come to mind.
Gastronomicon unfolds ominously on opening instrumental “Dark Side of the Shroom,” before kicking into gear about halfway through with some bruising heavy riffs and a brief burst of speedier melodeath riffing. This well conceived opening provides one of the few moments of respite on what is otherwise a relentless battering, only broken up by Slugdge’s willingness to take the foot off the pedal every now and then and incorporate melody and soaring clean vocal hooks into the fray. The guitar work is inventive, abstract and fittingly brutal when necessary, harnessing a fine balance between technicality, melody and driving groove. I don’t have firm information as to who, if anyone, handled drumming duties, but whether human or machine the drumming is highly creative and complimentary to the unpredictable and dynamic nature of the songwriting. On weightier tracks like “Lettuce Prey” and the title track Slugdge showcase their immense compositional skills and burly delivery. Both tunes offer twisting, bizarre hybrids of warped technical black/death, sledgehammer grooves, schizoid vocals and unorthodox use of melody.
The production has a no-frills organic grit that actually fits Slugdge’s sound well. Unfortunately it’s also a heavily brickwalled recording, widdling the DR rating down to a miserable 4 and restricting some of the raw power of the album. Aside from its sonic blemishes Gastronomicon rollicks along just fine, with the band only occasionally guilty of overcooking the songs, which generally range between five and eight minutes in length.
Slugdge is a band set on busting genre boundaries and challenging the listener, and with this they succeed in spades. There’s no doubt Gastronomicon is a challenging album, requiring multiple listens to fully unlock and absorb the abstract nature and intricacies on offer. The songwriting is loaded with unexpected twists and surprisingly catchy hooks, yet it isn’t as difficult to penetrate as say the recent releases from experimental extreme acts like Pyrrhon or Diskord. There’s great reward in perseverance here. I’m still wrapping my head around the album myself and it’s proving increasingly listenable and addictive with each new spin. Slugdge crafted a truly weird and unique album worthy of the attention of more adventurous metalheads. Time to get slugged in the guts by Gastronomicon.
Tracks to Check: “The Sound of Mucus,” “Gastronomicon”