Title: Alternate Endings
Label: Sludgelord Records
Release Date: 27 September 2019
Format: High-quality Digital Promo
Oh Sludgelord Records how you have me firmly in your clutches with all this great new music you’re releasing. This time round it’s Germany’s pummelling, groove-tinged, riff-blasting-machine CRANIAL (see me trying really hard here to avoid just using the easy genre categorisation). Some might call this Sludge Metal (fitting given the record label), and there are hints at GODFLESH, ISIS, NEUROSIS, MELVINS, CULT OF LUNA and the like here (though the references are never blatant). Some might also call this Post-Metal, but I’ve always hated using genre terms that describe a relationship to another genre: Post-Metal, Post-Rock, Nu-Metal, Alternative Rock, etc etc… Sure, we can have a sense of what these terms mean once we’ve listened to a few bands lumped into those categories, but they’re hardly descriptive. With this in mind I’ll do my best to describe what this music actually sounds like.
With 4 tracks spanning 49 minutes (3 of them over the 11-minute mark) you would likely expect either slow atmospheric build-ups or riffs that lock into a groove and hammer you into a hypnotic state of submission. With “Alternate Endings” it’s very much the latter. Brief, drifting atmospheric intros aside, these tracks hit hard the moment the drums and guitars burst in (final track “Holistic Figure” might be something of an exception, but we’ll get back to that). Definitely comparable to the stomping, pounding grooves of guitarist Michael Melchers’ former band – the fully instrumental OMEGA MASSIF (tremendous band, check them out) – while there are some roaring vocals throughout the record, much of the it is instrumental, and when it’s not the vocals can be taken as an added texture. Clever lyricism is not a focal point; this is very much about the music. On top of Melchers’ musical voyage pre-CRANIAL, this is also the current band’s second full-length release after 2017’s also excellent “Dark Towers / Bright Lights”. Altogether it should be no surprise then that the riffs, and grooves are executed with precision and confidence. This is a band that knows exactly what they’re doing.
After some ominous hums, opening track “Faint Voice” explodes in a burst of pounding drums – full of great, crashing fills – huge, chugging guitar riffs and an overall feeling of being sucked into a churning, metallic whirlpool. As the band thunders along with these great slabs of sound, they whip up the tempo, then slow it to a near crawl, all the while keeping it heavy as raining concrete. While the band incorporates stripped-back atmospheric passages, it never feels like a simple loud/quiet/loud/quiet dynamic; there’s very much a flow to this music and like a river running over changing terrain the band takes the music where the channels lead it.
The next track “Unceasing Bridge” might be even heavier than the first with its relentlessly hammering drums and gigantic, distorted guitar riffs. At almost 25 minutes between them these first 2 tracks (and first half of the album) carry the listener through slowly shifting and morphing riffing, with the music always evolving or transitioning so that it never feels like the same riff over and over. Album highpoint “Burning Bridges” drives along on an almost Industrial sounding beat, before locking into an irresistible head-banging groove, that harks back – with its slicing guitar lines – to the energetic exuberance of TOOL circa-Ænima (back when they were still energetic and exuberant). At just under 16minutes final track “Holistic Figure” takes up almost a third of the total running time, and here – with an ominously bleak spoken intro passage – the band takes a more ambient approach. As the drums, circle around on a great, insistent fill-laden pattern, drones and guitars swirl and swell. The music caries along, almost meditative, but still heavy for sure, before opening out into a, disorienting, stripped back 7/8 beat, a sparse, ghostly, shimmering guitar line floating on top. It’s like a dark cloud billowing up through the sky, ever-changing and shifting in its form. And then like a classical piece with themes running through channels and re-emerging throughout the entire composition, the band draws everything back together into a final chugging evolution of the track’s main riff.
Heavy, pounding, hypnotic, “Alternate Endings” is one big, thunderous metal beast. If you want some meaty metal to take you on a journey for 49minutes, you’ll find your time well spent with this one. 8.5/10 Tom
8.5/10 To Greatness and Glory
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