Slabdragger/ Meadows – split LP (stoner metal)

Head of Crom Records CROM4, 2012, vinyl LP, 35m 2s


The last split release I reviewed also involved Meadows. The rationale behind split releases is obviously to seek a synergy: the artists involved generally have a close stylistic affinity, or their audiences overlap, to their mutual benefit; sometimes I suspect the reason has more to do with the relationship between the artists than any overt promotional or creative goal. Sometimes the contrast involved is more striking than anything else, as in the combination of Chad Vangaalen’s lo-fi pop songs and Xiu Xiu’s medium-interrogating sound art that I reviewed some months ago. In their last split release Meadows moved a considerable distance to close the gap between their creative practice and that of their collaborators, Chestburster, and this time they sound a lot more like Slabdragger, but also, it must be said, a lot more like they normally do.

Slabdragger’s sound here has the abrasive grit and balls-out intensity of the punk aftermath’s lunatic extremes, but their approach to tempo and texture completely bridges punk’s moment of rupture. On the one hand certain proto-doom acts of the late 1960s (such as Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath)are a clear inspiration, and on the other hand there are moments of textural atonality that owe a debt to noise rock, and the whole sound is sometimes reminiscent of 1980s acts that brought a gleefully ugly punk sensibility to metal, such as Saint Vitus. There is a whole subsequent history of doom and drone metal acts which is where the band should really be contextualised, but  they are far from straightforwardly idiomatic. Their riffs move with ineluctable gravity, like something massive and irregularly shaped falling, and tumbling end over end. When they let their sounds simply hang, they hang like girders swinging from a crane, droning more like stressed materials than running engines.

Meadows evince a surprisingly melodic sensibility at times, upper register guitar textures decorating their trademark rib-crushing riffery with sweetly melancholy top-voices, although the vertical structure remains generally homorhythmic; only the pillagers’ death-shout vocals are permitted to emerge from the field as an object of focus. ‘Superscammell’ is the title of Meadows’ opening cut, and heavy machinery remains a touchstone for the band’s aesthetic; for all their rural imagery, the sound on this release speaks of vast quarries and the brutal demolition of redundant industrial structures.

The balance from side A to side B of this release is remarkably consistent, without eliding the fact that they were recorded by two different acts. There is the coherent sound of an album about this recording, a single aesthetic statement produced in sequential collaboration. Slabdragger tend more toward the slow and even arhythmic territory of amp-bleeders like Sunn O))) while Meadows smell more strongly of hardcore, but there is a very considerable degree of overlap, encompassing the majority of both bands’ output. Sheer sound pressure is exploited for an effect on the listener as neurological as it is aesthetic; you don’t have to be stoned to listen to it, or to play it, but the experience of hearing it sure as hell makes you think you’re stoned.

This album is a psychotropic bludgeon of surprising subtlety; both acts have written and arranged their work with a careful attention to dynamic balance and dramatic tension. The music is epic in scope, but the individual songs are short enough to read as lyric work. An aspect of the over-arching coherence of the work may be the production and mastering, which has clearly been directed at enhancing and reinforcing the warmth and depth of its intended reproduction medium; in fact I’d go so far as to say that my CD promo sounds like vinyl, so I imagine the vinyl version sounds great (or a total mush, but my money’s on the former). For a feast of powerful stoner-sludge-doom racket, I can’t recommend this highly enough, and it serves as a great introduction to both bands for the uninitiated.

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