ENGLISH SLUDGE DOOM METAL
6/10 – KATIE HALEY-HALINSKI
Okay, I’ll hold my hands up here – reviewing extreme doom is a toughie. And just because it’s a sludge hybrid doesn’t change the fact that Volition’s self-titled is a challenging prospect. Too fast for the drone crowd, too slow for most death-doom fans. However, the colossal soundscapes, hewn from a primal, metamorphic low-end distortion, and the controlled sense of sustained intent help keep this album afloat and ensure that this miasmic entity hauls itself into the ears without a second’s faltering.
What’s really quite rewarding about this album is the way the tracks coalesce toward a unified identity. They all share a certain overarching tone to them: drenched in distortion to the point of losing all crispness, torturously slow, burning with unspoken purpose. As already mentioned, the band seem to have a real sense of momentum and push behind the tracks, rarely if ever letting up and allowing for relief before the next onrush of noise. Yet they know how to manipulate texture to create mood. The sparser passages drop away to leave an unsettling sensation akin to shallow vertigo, and when the band all come in, the trudging tumult threatens to become overwhelming, the mix designed to carry across the feeling of crushing weight, by striking just the right balance between a monolithic snarl and the separate instruments. The guitar has some of the most well-tailored sustain I’ve heard, dragging the tail of the note like footprints of bloodied tracks, and the bass adds a snappier punctuation, so to speak, the abrupt booms having a muted afterlife that emphasises the notes without garbling them. The drums too have a knack for a controlled slowness: they may go at a snail’s pace, but they are never sloppy. Meanwhile the vocals may be incoherent, yet the modulation between slow death-roars and a blood-curdling anguished cry are another vital component to the overwhelming sensation of malaise and dread, communicating two parallel threads of unsettling human sound in a way that goes beyond words to speak to deeper levels. This means that although it is often hard to tell where one track ends and another begins, instead of simply zoning out in the face of a wall of noise, you are engaged with each different part of the album. ‘Volition’ challenges you to get your hands dirty figuring out the small intricacies: changes in time signature, moments of pseudo-tribal drumming, vocal gymnastics between bellow and screech, moments of lead guitar/bassline weaving-together, the elusive odd chord progression (a major scale descent, I believe?) in ‘The Mistress’. It’s all in there, but Volition leave you as the listener to fight through the morass to find such moments.
I suppose that what I’d ideally like from Volition is not necessarily a more differentiated sound, but a more diverse one. The approach they have, of slab-hewn symphonies dragged from the bowels of an eviscerated bass amp, is one that works. But occasional stylistic judders like the sudden lurch into the vocal intro of ‘Pathogen’ feel clumsy, and perhaps the variations, when they happen, are either quickly fitted into categories of “oh, now they’re doing that again” or are perhaps a little too easy to miss on first listen. It’d be nice to hear perhaps a more diverse approach, such as unusual chord structures, or more complex interplay between instruments: to make the tracks movements, and not just tracks. But then again, in a world dominated by the three-minute pop song and the two-minute pop song, and the culture of single releases and iPod shuffle playlists, having an album that demands you sit and listen to it in its entirety is a bold statement, and being able to pull it off is even better. I’d be very interested in following up Volition, to see how this approach develops.