Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean – Vestige

Band: Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean
Title: Vestige
Label: Redscroll Records
Release Date: 16 October 2020
Country: USA
Format Reviewed: Digital Download

Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean (presumaby taking their name from the track “Fucking Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean” by Louisiana Sludge Metal band Thou) are certainly a band with a canny sense of how to create mystique. Having released a handful of extremely limited EPs, complete with strikingly ghoulish artwork, alongside portraits of the band masked by chains wrapped around their faces, the band now delivers their first full-length release “The Vestige”. And it’s a similar story for me as it was with their earlier mini releases: I’m intrigued, at times delighted and ultimately left with a sense that this doesn’t quite reach the heights it could.

For those unfamiliar with the band, the simple description is that they play Sludge Metal. Mostly slow and churning, the low end is thundering, the guitars down-tuned and heavily distorted and the vocals? Well there’ll be more to say on that matter later, but they too are heavily distorted and essentially a continuous mono-note scream/ howl (with very occasional deviations).

From the opening “Confusion Hath Fuck His Masterpiece” you get the gut punch power in the drums and the down-tuned guitars dragging you down into a murky pit, and this sets the tone for the album. There’s a definite Doom Metal feel through much of the music, though the strongest association I hear is EyeHateGod. Nowhere is this comparison more fitting than on the track “And Every Sword Unsheathed”, which with its feedback intro and lurching, sleazy main guitar line, really paints the band into that classic NOLA Sludge Metal sound.

By the end of the record it’s clear that the band are filtering plenty of influences and this largely keeps the music from slipping into repetitiveness. On the above mentioned track for example, there’s a midway breakdown into a great wigged out guitar solo and you might for a minute think you were listening to Monster Magnet or some other Psychedelic Stoner Rock. On “Four Cubits and a Span” the band choose to pick up the pace for a mid-tempo assault and some of the drumming is brutally heavy; “The Dead Who Climb Up to the Sky” meanwhile has a sinister, swirling mid-track meander that seems more in keeping with an Alternative Rock band, before the track morphs into some kind of Post-Hardcore nervy groove.

Perhaps where it all comes together most satisfyingly is on the mid album track “Escape! Harmony is Disclosure” which starts out brutally, crushingly slow, dragging and pounding, full of distortion and moments of nervous anticipation before the band suddenly charges like a train racing downhill and threatening to come off the tracks. Another high-point comes immediately after with “I’ve Got a Gut Feeling” carrying perhaps the most emotionally fraught atmosphere, for some reason making me think of The Red House Painters if they were possessed by a demon from The Evil Dead. Such comparisons might not be so crazy, as the band also chooses to cover the Death Cab For Cutie track “I Will Possess Your Heart” (a very cool original, but very far from Sludge Metal. The band successfully fold it into their own style).

While the band deserves credit for injecting variety into the Sludge genre, repeatedly fucking it all up like they’ve got a penchant for sticking knives in the toaster, the 75min run time feels pretty long. Perhaps the main reason is the aforementioned vocals. Sludge Metal often includes vocalists less on the melodic side (though Dax Riggs from Acid Bath shows there don’t have to be any limitations), but if I think some of my favourite Sludge bands there are plenty who really bring their own personality no matter how abrasive the style may be (Nats Spada of Torpor, Kirk Windstein of Crowbar, all the guys from Neurosis and of course Mike XI of EyeHateGod). The vocals on “The Vestige” however lack the same visceral intensity or indeed personality found with any of those above mentioned bands, and with this continual, slightly bland distorted howling blanketing the whole album it does stop me from really loving this as much as I could.

Metal bands often lose me with their vocals and though I still find a lot to enjoy on “The Vestige”, ultimately I’m coming to the same conclusion as I did when I first heard the band: they play some really cool, heavy, nasty Sludge Metal, but until they inject their vocals with some more personality and raw energy (and rely less on just cranking the distortion) they probably won’t be in the conversation of the top bands in the genre (though I think they have that potential). Despite this negative endnote, “The Vestige”  is still a damn cool Sludge album with plenty to enjoy if you’re searching for something dark, heavy and misanthropic 7.5/10 Tom Boatman

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