Title: Planet Loss
Label: Sludgelord Records
Release Date: 13 September 2019
Format reviewed: Digital Promo
The old saying goes “never judge a book by its cover”. As someone who worked in bookselling for coming on eight years, I think a better modification is “never judge a book only by its cover”. The cover should be the first opportunity to represent the kind of content you’re going to find inside, and if by chance the author and/or publisher can’t be bothered to prepare a fitting visual for what you’re about to read, well… that tells you something valuable too. The same, I think, is true of records. An album cover is an opportunity for a band to put you in the world they want their music to evoke. And the cover is just one part of course. There’s the band’s name itself for a start and the name of the record.
So what do we have here? The band is called WALLOWING, the album title: “Planet Loss”, the label “Sludgelord Records” and the cover? A comic book rendering of an alien spaceship with what may be humans handcuffed and lying facedown, while further in the background rows of more humanoids being whipped by giant alien/ robots. In front of the spaceship there’s a bright yellow planet. Maybe this is where the spaceship is headed, or maybe they’ve just left having taken their prisoners. It’s not totally clear, but put these visuals together with the album title you’ve got a pretty decent picture of the kind of scene the band is creating. And with a name like WALLOWING on the label they’re on, well I certainly expected some slow, pounding, sludgy metal and I found the band definitely doing their thing somewhere in that area.
According to their press release the album does indeed have a conceptual thread of a civilization being destroyed and encompassing themes of discrimination, mental illness and an oppressive regime – with a band-made comic to go with it (hats off for adding further dimensions to the music). When an album’s tracks are sandwiched between ‘Prologue’ and ‘Epilogue’ you know there has to be a running theme. Good luck deciphering the lyrics though, for this is one hell of a noisy record and the vocals are what I would characterise as screaming from out of the depths of a noisy, feedback soaked cacophony. Without a lyric sheet, I take the vocals as another texture to the music.
Between the bookends of ‘Prologue’ and ‘Epilogue’ it’s a real crushing, noise-fest, so be warned. Any metal fan is sure to have had that “it just sounds like noise” critique thrown at some of their favourite music. Well, noise is definitely a significant component to this music, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, just know what you’re getting into. There are many interesting textures to this music, but the melodies are not bobbing along on the surface; on top of the screaming, distorted vocals, there’s roaring, hot guitar feedback, simple, pounding drums and an altogether crushing, oppressive atmosphere. It’s not pretty, but I find myself coming back for more again and again.
With the album conceived as one uninterrupted musical piece, the band does divide the whole into individual tracks seemingly for listener convenience, but it certainly feels like a progression of one movement to the next, rather than distinct tracks. After the intro, “Earthless” and “Phosgene” very much set the tone, with huge blasts of doom infused sludgy hammer blows. While the tempo is mostly mid or slow-paced, the music will speed up or slow down in bursts, adding to a very organic feel. I like hearing music not played to a grid (especially when amazing technical proficiency is not the hook), and here these shifts in tempo and transitions from one passage or riff to another add to the feeling of some monstrously deformed creature, part animal, part machine, dragging itself through a gruesome, alien landscape.
With a feeling of slowly building up to the climax, tracks four and five – “Hail Creation” and “Vessel” respectively – take the enveloping heaviness of the first half of the record and introduce more in the way of memorable riffs and melodies. “Hail Creation” starts out with a deep menacing riff, like MELVINS at their most sludgy and abrasive, before being overlaid with dissonant guitar tones and then from a hornet’s nest of feedback the band slowly pounds out a skull bursting beat, before the track morphs into a great, sickly twisted, angular guitar riff, all to the backdrop of ever increasing feedback. The penultimate track “Vessel” meanwhile, provides the most in the way of discernable melody, with an abrasive, doomy riff opening the track up, before the pounding drums come crashing back in and the band lurches forward all the while with these great dissonant harmonies cascading out of the guitar.
Altogether “Planet Loss” is a slow builder and repeated listens reveal the quirks contained in the music. On the surface it’s a gigantic wall of sludge metal noise, but it’s well worth being submerged by. A very enjoyable cacophony to have washing over the eardrums, it ain’t pretty, but this ain’t no beauty pageant. 8/10 Tom
8/10 To Greatness and Glory!
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