By Kevin Stewart-Panko
First truth be told, I am a fan of the metallic sub-genre that has come to be known as sludge. Second truth be told, as much as a fan as I am of the metallic sub-genre that’s come to be known as sludge, sludge as a metallic sub-genre itself isn’t exactly know for its dynamism or originality. You throw on sludge because you want to immerse yourself in guitar tones that are as thick as pitch, bass that can de-feather rabid pigeons at twenty paces, drums that sound like the wooden coffins of hell opening on the afternoon of the apocalypse and vocalists either screaming or growling (or both) about drugs, alcohol or killing themselves with drugs and alcohol. You don’t throw on sludge hoping to hear how some heavily tattooed, emaciated stoner dude with a center-part, a Buried At Sea hoodie on his back and a Buzzov-en discography under his arm has managed to incorporate jazz breaks, blast beats and modal solos into the four de-tuned chords they ripped off from Tony Iommi and have been hypnotically repeating for the last three years.
It is precisely this philosophic reality that makes An Introduction to the Black Arts as boring and generic as awesome and crushing as it is. One song from each band with Cough being the more spacious of the two, yet the more likely to have your backseat passengers begging for a roadside stop for an impromptu upchuck. This Richmond quartet crank out chords at a pace on par with that last dollop of Aunt Jemima’s sliding down the bottle’s neck and onto a steaming pile of flapjacks; that is, if the syrup were corrosive acid and its flapjack targets were strapped down virgin angels. “The Gates of Madness” is delightfully evil and coarse, but has the potential to be unexciting in the band’s inability to put their own stamp on the sound.
The UK’s the Wounded Kings make use of a Hammond organ from the onset of “Curse of Chains,” with a Mellotron rearing it swirly head as the fifteen-minute track wears on (or is Mellotron first and Hammond second? Fucked if I know…) which hints at the promise of new territory being explored. The way George Birch moans and groans his melodies and interplays with the organs and riffs is refreshingly hypnotic. They sound more concerned with creating a Candlemass-gone-psychedelic mood as opposed to the cross-haired brutality of Cough, but it’s the sort of material you need to have the time and patience to sit back, absorb and experience, preferably with incense and black candles burning in the background. Or you’re just going to be frustrated by its lack of propulsive forward motion.