Sludge: SubGenre Profile

Many years ago, things were a great deal simpler in the wold of music description. Genres were few, but choices limited. Today the world of genres is spiraling fast out of control, with labels such as ‘shoegaze’ or ‘noize’ being applied to music, that just don’t seem to make any sense. With this in mind we here at Adrenochrome Music shall perform the very deepest of in-depth research into a genre of relevance each week, and publish the results here in the hopes of aiding you travels across the murky seas of musical description.

And what better place to start than with Sludge? Not only a great favorite of ours as you may have guessed, but also, at face value, one of these nonsensical labels..

Sludge metal generally combines the slow tempos, heavy rhythms and dark, pessimistic atmosphere of doom metal with the aggression, shouted vocals and occasional fast tempos of hardcore punk. As The New York Times put it, “The shorthand term for the kind of rock descending from early Black Sabbath and late Black Flag is sludge, because it’s so slow and dense”. Many sludge bands compose slow-paced songs that contain brief hardcore passages (for example Eyehategod’s “Depress”). However, some bands emphasize fast tempos throughout their music. The string instruments (electric guitar and bass guitar) are heavily distorted and are often played with large amounts of feedback to produce an abrasive, sludgy sound. In pure sludge, guitar solos are often absent. Drumming is often performed in typical doom metal fashion, but drummers may employ hardcore d-beat or double-kick drumming during faster passages. Vocals are usually shouted or screamed, and lyrics are generally pessimistic in nature. Suffering, drug abuse, politics and anger towards society are common lyrical themes.

Many sludge metal bands from the Southern United States incorporate southern rock and blues influence, although not all sludge bands share this style. So-called “atmospheric” sludge bands adopt a more experimental approach and compose music with an ambient atmosphere, reduced aggression and philosophical lyrics. Due to the similarities between sludge and stoner metal, there is often a crossover between the two genres, but sludge metal generally avoids stoner metal’s positive atmosphere and its usage of psychedelia. Sludge metal also bears some musical and lyrical resemblance to crust punk, due to the usage of political lyrics and thick, ‘dirty’ guitar sounds.

Early key figures in the genres development were the Melvins (Montesano, WA) with their first two albums Six Songs (1986) and Gluey Porch Treatments (1987):

Sludge then spread across the southern and Eastern United States, in part due to the popularity of Down, a supergroup that began life as a side project for Pantera, with first album Nola (1995) and Down II (2002) being personal favorites. ‘Bury Me In Smoke’, the last track of Nola, is a paradigm example of the genre:

Here in the UK, Sludge was first brought to us by Iron Monkey with their selftitled debut in 1995, reissued with Earache Records in ’96, followed up with Our Problem in 1997:

The genre continues to move from strength to strength, and today pockets of sludge can be found all round the world, thanks be to the metal gods.

Next week: Hardcore!


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