NOTE: We are starting a new weekly feature every Friday, simply our Pick of the Week. This is our first selection of many! By the way, thanks a million times over to Sam Panico for the fresh, cult new logo. Hailz!
Extreme metal goofs Strapping Young Lad had an album many years ago called “Heavy as a Really Heavy Thing.” It was heavy. And, as the Devin Townsend-led band tended to do, it slammed its tongue directly into its smart-assed cheek regarding some of the clichés of heavy metal, and made me think about some of the very obvious ways we discuss this music.
But sometimes describing something as unforgivingly, massively heavy is the only true way to convey a band’s music and approach, and that’s always been the way I’ve felt about Northless, the gargantuanly devastating sludge metal based in Milwaukee (Algonquin for “the good land”). How else should one describe what these guys create? Is it a fairly uncreative way of talking about music? Sure it is, and it gives me hives doing so because I strive to be better, but holy living fuck, is Northless ever heavy. Stupidly so!
OK, yes, Northless do weave a lot of interesting post-rock melodies into their sound and even take some swift stabs at hardcore, so we’re not talking meat-headed skullduggery or anything. You can always tell how much time and effort went into the band’s music, and they strive to be something a little different than every other band that popped off the hulking mass that is Neurosis. Yes, that influence is there, but more so as loving devotion than trying to mimic a sound, but where you really dig into what’s fascinating about Northless is what’s under the surface. Their music, especially what’s on their incredible new album “World Keeps Sinking,” by far the best sludge-based record to bubble to the surface this year, is so complex. It’s like two different forces working together—the mean, menacing doom pit where all the mucky battle happens, and the more delicate, melodic, supremely atmospheric part that ties together beauty and beast. To me half the fun is hearing those two sides come together and, not clash, but meld to form a greater whole, one with an impressive grip on emotion and tumult that I’m not sure any other band out there is doing any better.
“World Keeps Sinking,” being co-released by Gilead Media and Halo of Flies, is the follow-up to 2011’s “Clandestine Abuse,” though they’ve had some smaller releases since then, including a split with Light Bearer and last year’s “Valley of Lead” EP. While the band—vocalist/guitarist Erik Stenglein, guitarist Nick Elert, bassist Jerry Hauppa, and drummer John Gleisner—always has been impressive and exploded with promise to be one of the new standard bearers for sludge metal, and this new record is the one that should help them ascend to that leadership position. It’s hulking, massive, and beautiful, and while it may take some time to fully grow on you, once it does, you’ll never again shake its massive power and world-shaking dominance. This band has fucking arrived.
“Last of Your Kind” opens the record, and it takes a little while to get warmed up, but once it does, it is massive. It’s burly and a little bluesy when it comes to the guitar work, and once the hammer drops, things start stomping. Get your hands and feet out of the way, because they’re getting smashed by these guys, and Stenglein’s monstrous growl proves both intimidating and commanding. “Let the Earth swallow them whole!” he bellows as the band keeps punching away, eventually settling into a nasty swagger that takes them home. “Kuru” is an unreal track, one you may have heard previewed online, and is a great example of all of their many parts coming together, including crushing violence and soaring melodies, some strange twists and turns you won’t see coming, and a nice psychedelic voyage toward the end that seems like the band is trying to out-Sleep Sleep. The killer title track sounds like it takes influences from both Neurosis and pre-fame Soundgarden, especially with the whinnying guitar work, and there are parts of this song that are so impossibly heavy, I can’t really put it into words. You have to experience the power for yourself.
“Communion” lasts more than 11 minutes, and each one is filled with drama. Melodies rollick, while somberness slips in and darkens the room. The song is very weighty and complex, incredibly emotional, and even has some prog-friendly sections that open up and show an even more creative side to the band. Yes, it’s heavy, but it’s also full of bright colors you don’t normally get from Northless. “Passage” is a mammoth epic, stretching to nearly 16 minutes of adventure. The first few minutes trickle cleanly, taking its time to set the mood and prepare you for the storm clouds, which eventually arrive with a vengeance. The vocals are gruff and meaty, searing hardcore-style stabbing shows up, and the song finishes on a psychedelic high that positively sizzles. This track works and comes together so organically, you won’t even realize 16 minutes have passed. “Wither and Escape” is the shortest cut on here, at just 3:16, and the band drops a ton of bricks, leaving you bloody in no time at all. It’s a nice change of pace from all that hulking, and it bridges the gap to closer “Returnless,” the punishing closer that grounds and pounds with relentless fury. The track bubbles like it’s a pocket of lava ready to break through the surface and scorch the land, the steam and smoke that rises is the return of psychedelic wonder, and the damaged melodies that slam the door on the album make you feel off balance but well served.
This is an astonishing step ahead for Northless, a band already impressive before this record dropped but now that deserves to be at the front of the conversation when it comes to bands doing sludge and post-metal right. “World Keeps Sinking” is one of the most satisfying doses of demolition released this year, and any year-end list without this included in December should be deemed invalid. Yeah, I say that in August. Not only is it supremely exciting to see what this band has created with this record, but their next steps should be just as enthralling.
For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/NORTHLESS/111496092214579
To buy the album, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/releasedirectory/northless-world-keeps-sinking-2lp/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/
Or here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/