Like them or hate them, Mastodon have grown into one of the biggest metal bands this side of the millennium. But many pine for their pre-The Hunter era, when they were still playing dense, complex sludge instead of smooth progressive metal. If you’re like that, Timeworn should come as an absolute treat. Venomous High, their second album, takes an old school Mastodon base and runs it through a filter of cranky post-sludge like Neurosis and Isis. The outcome is a heavy, abrasive album that alternates between interesting melodies and neck-crushing headbanging.
“Measure of Gold” kicks off with undulating guitars and ominous shamanic vocals, before unpacking the band’s signature sound. Bottom-heavy riffs twist and turn along the tribal drumming, bludgeoning with a mid-paced doom rhythm. Vocalist Stian possesses a brutal, Scott Kelly-like hardcore roar that lends further weight to the music. When “All Chiefs” hits, the speed shifts up suddenly, picking up a note of Disfear, while packing a massive groove in the chorus. But the biggest peak is, appropriately, “Black Peak Blues,” where darkly shimmering leads intertwine with burly rhythm guitars that alternate between mysterious and clobbering. The main riff has an addictive hook that you keep coming back to, something so many strive for but never quite reach, without relinquishing the heft and atmosphere.
There’re a few instances where the spell is broken. The intro to “Black Peak Blues,” a 90-second atmospheric build-up of the main riff called “The Trail,” drains the momentum so generously provided by “All Chiefs,” and “The Infectious Gloom” has a call-and-response structure that lacks the conviction of the rest of the album. But the same song makes up for its own flaw with a crackling chorus that hits like a tsunami, and by the time the massive, rolling drums leading into “Night of Owls” start pummeling your face, all is forgotten and forgiven. The only other complaint I’d like to surface is the usual front-loading, as the back-half sees a small decrease in variety, the harsh vocals being the primary offender. It’s still awesome, pounding, grinding and grooving metal, but I do find myself tuning out halfway through penultimate track “Traitors To The Crown” sometimes.
Still, don’t let those minor drawbacks keep you from blasting Venomous High at the highest volume your speakers or the structural integrity of your living arrangements will tolerate. Timeworn is still a developing band, this being the second release after their 2015 debut Luminescent Wake, but they have the mature sound and advanced songwriting chops of many more established acts. Taking elements from a few classic sludge masters, they have tweaked the dials and injected a creepily creeping atmosphere that batters with the crawling mass of a Lovecraftian deity. Venomous High is not a misnomer, portraying a definite high for lovers of abrasive heaviness.
Tracks to check out: “Measure of Gold,” “Black Peak Blues,” and “Night of Owls.”