With bands like Spotlights, Mountaineer, Thou, and Cult of Luna carrying the sludge metal torch the last few years, it’s easy to forget that sludge metal is supposed to be ugly. As much as I love the hybridizations with post rock and shoegaze that have been dominating the subgenre the last several years, they’ve distracted from the fact that sludge metal was born out of misanthropy and sonic assault.
London’s Existence Dysphoria hasn’t lost the plot though. Their debut record Minus Negative is a positively acerbic bit of sludge metal that harkens back to the most acrid acts in the scene.
After a two-minute introduction track, the record burns like molten steel. “Sculpted Into Nothing” opens with a few starts and stops, as if the song itself is too heavy to get moving in a single go. The guitars sound like they’ve been downtuned as far as they can without the strings falling off, and then play minor-keyed melodies through the thickest distortion they could muster. Drummer Nick Harley is surprisingly kinetic given the gravity of the riffs, his grooves pulling the rest of the band like a strongman towing a semi-truck. Vocalist Ben Ambrose shifts between deep growls, chant-like shouts, and melodic lines so eerie and atonal I don’t feel confident calling them clean.
There are some moments of quietness, like brittle oases where guitars trade fuzz pedals for reverb, but they are scarce, and make up a small fraction of the near-ten-minute run time of each track. These moments betray a love for bands like HUM and Kyuss that might come as a surprise based on the impenetrable wall of caustic sludge in the rest of the record.
To be clear: this record isn’t for everyone. But it isn’t trying to be. If you’re a sludge fan who’s grown disappointed by how soft the scene has gotten, Minus Negative scratches the itch for harsh, ugly sludge.
Minus Negative is out July 1 through Sludgelord Records.