One of the great things about the sludge and doom genres is how much variation can be found. While there are plenty of bands out there beating the same old riffs to death, there are even more putting their own spin on the styles and adding in different influences. The TO staff has compiled a list of recent releases that stand out, and you’ll find that each one is able to bring something different to the table. ~Chris Dahlberg
Adrift for Days (Australia) – A Sleepless Grey (Art as Catharsis Records)
The doom and sludge spectrum of extreme metal has always held close ties with the human psyche, giving birth to some of the most emotionally dense records. While sometimes it is required by the band to amp up the riff intensity to increase the immersive quality of the record, there are situations where a more leaner and constrained approach is the need of the hour. Adrift for Days from Australia has done the latter for their third full length ‘A Sleepless Grey’, released through Art as Catharsis. Atmospheric in its approach, the record relies on clean guitar melodies with the occasional sludgy heaviness thrown in for good measure. The vocalist gives an enthralling performance, alternating between moving cleans and harsh growls, where ever the situation demands it. At over an hour long, each track carries its own flavour, often exhibiting doom, post metal and sometimes psychedelic stoner elements. Layered, immersive and emotionally dense, this is a record fit for somber moods and deep introspection. ~Shrivatsan R.
american (United States) – Violate and Control (Sentient Ruin Laboratories/Fragile Branch Recordings/Shove Records)
While we’ve seen examples of how sludge and doom metal can be made to sound melancholic and at times even uplifting through the clever use of atmosphere, there are bands that also drag these styles into dark, scary depths. American, a duo from the USA have taken it upon themselves to mix elements of sludge metal with other caustic styles like industrial, black metal, and harsh noise to create sounds capable of chilling the listener’s core with its dread filled, joyless atmosphere. ‘Violate and Control’, the band’s second full length release is an unforgiving listen where the listener is subjected to painful, blackened industrial sludge with a noisy atmosphere that rarely lets up. This mixed with the riffs that skirt the post-black lines offer a cathartic experience in a claustrophobic soundscape as vocals vary from growls to ominous spoken word. While this release shifts away from the sludge heavy debut album, the undercurrent of high gains and monolithic riffs here qualify it for this list. A challenging listen for sure, but a rewarding one none the less. ~Shrivatsan R.
Below (Sweden) – Upon a Pale Horse (Metal Blade Records)
We tend to be focused on the more extreme side of the metal spectrum here at TO, so you’ll notice the majority of the picks for this doom/sludge round-up skew towards that side of the genre. But there’s plenty of great material out there for fans of the more traditional end of the doom spectrum, and one in particular that caught my attention over the past few months is ‘Upon a Pale Horse’, the sophomore full length from Sweden’s Below. Though they’ve only been around since 2012, the level of songwriting on this album might fool you into thinking that this is another of those doom acts that has been around for a couple of decades. Each song delivers powerful instrumentation alongside melodies that have a darker feel, and while that familiar plodding doom tempo is on full display Below occasionally picks things up a bit and incorporates some power and heavy metal influences. This type of metal falters when its vocals aren’t up to par but lead singer Zeb does a fantastic job, hitting listeners with soaring vocals that maintain a commanding presence and flair for the epic throughout. Their influences may be familiar, but Below has the songwriting chops to stand out. ~Chris Dahlberg
Bereft (United States) – Lands (Prosthetic Records)
I’ve written about Brume and Nomadic Rituals elsewhere in this feature, and was going to leave it at just those two weighty releases, but as I was browsing my recent doom acquisitions I happened upon ‘Lands’ and remembered just how damn good an album this is. If you haven’t encountered Bereft before then prepare yourself for a journey through vast, grim, atmospheric soundscapes of filthy blackened doom. Oh yes, this is very much the stuff we like. The only other thing I’ll say about this album is that it’s experienced best in its entirety. So go and do that now. You can thank me later. ~Nigel Holloway
Bison (Canada) – You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient (Pelagic Records)
Vancouver based Bison has become increasing hard to classify (which I take as a good sign). On ‘You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient’, the band could be called sludge, post-metal, or even doom. If you listen closely, there are elements of hardcore and noise rock present as well. Comprised of two guitars, two vocalists, one bassist, and one drummer, (or Canadian guys) the band has always filled a similar niche for me as the bands Thou and Kowloon Walled City. That is to say, I don’t listen to them often, but when I have an itch to repeatedly bash my head against a wall, they scratch it just right. This latest effort hasn’t moved away from this territory, but has certainly matured in complexity. Within the aggressive riffs, the take-no-prisoners attitude, and the pounding sensation created by the whole package, the band has allowed room for notes to breath. Don’t get me wrong. Bison is not suddenly an atmospheric doom band that you can space out to, eyes closed, headphones on. Instead, the atmosphere and the space it creates demand your full attention. One doesn’t get lost in the tracks, but they certainly hook the listener, refusing to let go until they chose to release you. I’ve always liked Bison, though I’ve never loved them. That may have changed on this release. ~Rick Jackson
Blood of Sokar (United States)- Blood of Sokar (Self-Released/Lighten Up Sounds)
Seattle’s Blood of Sokar is a doom band cloaked in mystery, as aside from their location the duo has revealed very little details about themselves. Instead they let the three tracks on their debut self-titled EP do all of the talking, and this material is definitely capable of leaving an impression on listeners. Blood of Sokar skews towards the drone side of the doom genre, with each song spreading outwards from a singular riff and melody at a slow pace. It’s the type of material that is often an acquired taste, but those listeners who like funeral doom and drone that spreads outwards and envelops them in a thick, hazy atmosphere will find a lot to like about Blood of Sokar. The spacey aesthetics of the melodies brings a different dynamic than one might expect from drone/doom, and the vocals come through as terrifying shrieks and screams that are much closer to black metal. This gives the EP an overall effect of a psychotic haze where you’re both lulled into a calm trance and pushed towards a fearful, tense state, all within the course of the same song. ~Chris Dahlberg
Brume (United States) – Rooster (Self-Released/Doom Stew Records)
Brume’s fuzzy and emotive brand of doom metal is one of my favourite releases of 2017 thus far. With luscious melodies, sweepingly moody atmosphere, and well-crafted heavy riffs, ‘Rooster’ contains over 50 minutes of transcendental doom metal, the likes of which people like me love to use overwrought words and much hyperbole to describe. I can’t help but feel that ‘Rooster’ justifies this though, as it really is an exemplary record, especially for a debut release. The music is utterly compelling, but the singer is the band’s star in many ways, (although it should be noted that she doesn’t outshine the music, so high is its quality levels). Her voice is captivating and beautiful though, there’s no getting away from it. With great range and finesse, she handles both powerful and softer deliveries with ease. So good. Well, well; ‘Rooster’ is an unexpected treat for any doom metal fan. Here’s a band that deals in emotion and atmosphere, wrapped up in quality doom metal. What’s not to like? Indeed, what’s not to love? ~Nigel Holloway
Cambrian (Italy) – Mobular (Self-Released/Taxi Driver Records)
Expectations on a band’s sound are often shaped in the user’s mind based on the band’s geography, style of choice and at times, even the record label. Italian power trio Cambrian lay out all their cards on the table by calling themselves Hawaiian doom and by having an aquatic themed cover art. So the expectations here align with the final product delivered. The stoner/doom/sludge sound of Cambrian takes inspiration from surf rock to create a very tropical atmosphere. This does not however indicate a compromise on the heaviness of it all, as the intensity of the riffs can be compared to shifting tectonic plates in the ocean floor or giant waves crashing on a cliff face. With only Seaweed Shaman exhibiting terror evoking growls for vocals, the rest of the tracks rely purely on the riffs and atmosphere to take the listener through the record. At the end of a 43 minute run time, ‘Mobular’ feels like when you are sitting on a beach with a Mai Tai while quietly contemplating what giant horrors lurk beneath the ocean in front of you. ~Shrivatsan R.
Dragged (Germany) – We Summon (Self-Released)
It’s the lengthy, drawn out pieces of crushing heaviness that keep me coming back to doom metal, and every now and then we come across a real gem that few have heard. Whether it be a lack of promotion or something else that keep these gems from reaching more ears is a mystery to me, but discovering one is a feeling like none other. That’s how I felt upon finding the debut album ‘We Summon’ from the German group Dragged. A 5-track record that perfectly embodies everything doom, Dragged isn’t afraid to change the script by adding long-winded sections of ambiance or pick up the pace. Partner those with haunting vocals, a soul-crushing sound, and a heaviness denser than a black hole and you’ve got an all-consuming record that does not disappoint in the slightest. Each track is satisfying in their own rights whether you be searching for magnificent riffs or a seductive intro, and when it comes together as fluidly as it did with ‘We Summon’ that’s when you go into a territory extremely few bands can access. This may be the only piece of material that Dragged has to call their own, but it’s more awe inspiring and cohesive than what some bands decades old can only dream of. ~Vinterd
God Root (United States) – Salt and Rot (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions)
When it comes to pay-offs in extreme music, it differs drastically from style to style. While it is immediate in a majority of releases, some albums come across more as an experience and listeners often have to repeatedly immerse themselves to get that satisfaction. Take the case of God Root from Philadelphia. This sludge/doom/post-metal act (or sludge shamans as the promo blurb rightly called them) released their second EP ‘Salt and Rot’ recently and much like their 2016 debut, it is hard to describe the individual tracks in the record. The band’s intentions are for this album to be taken as a singular piece and that is exactly the way it is meant to be experienced. The layered soundscapes of God Root requires patience to navigate as the band’s goal is completely transfix the listener with the trance inducing atmosphere. With multiple vocals adding to the dense atmospheric sludge/post-metal sound, it is almost impossible not to be hypnotized. Take the plunge and at the end of the 32 minute run time, the experience will speak for itself ~Shrivatsan R.
He Whose Ox is Gored (United States) – Paralyzer (Void Assault Records/Chain Letter Collective) and Fainting Room Collective (Self-Released)
This Seattle quartet shows all the traits of a modern prog underdog — seriously challenging chops and majestic, mind-bending songwriting. Their most recent releases, ‘Paralyzer’ and a two-song release for the ‘Fainting Room Collective’, showcase only a fraction of their talents, but for me they’re enough to topple prog-giants like BTBAM. What sets them apart are a dolloping dose of sludge heaviness, dredging listeners with ethereal melodies and pummeling percussive power. Like all underdogs, He Whose Ox is Gored deserve all the success in the world — it’s up to us to give their music a chance. I’ll be rooting for ’em all the way. ~Eric Seal
Morbid Evils (Finland) – Deceases (Svart Records)
2015’s ‘In Hate with the Burning World’ was an incredibly bleak, heavy slab of sludge, doom, and death metal, so what better direction for Morbid Evils to head in than one that’s even denser and methodical? On their newest full length ‘Deceases’, the Finnish group explores the concept of death itself through a series of six intertwined tracks. Compared to their debut it’s sparser in its compositions, sometimes approaching drone territory as the dense, lumbering guitars spread outwards. The atmosphere is thick, and the weight of the instrumentation often makes it feel like the recording is going to open up a sinkhole that will swallow you whole. There’s an industrial tinge to the drum work that reminds me of Godflesh in how methodical and machinelike each beat is, and this definitely gives the album a very different feel than those of you who’ve heard this band before might be expecting. ‘Deceases’ is an utterly hellish mix of sludge, doom, and death metal that is best experienced at maximum volume. ~Chris Dahlberg
Nomadic Rituals (United Kingdom) – Marking the Day (Self-Released)
The obvious, (and overused), word to describe a band like Nomadic Rituals is “crushing”. ‘Marking the Day’ is undoubtedly crushing, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. This is a monolithic death/doom album with heavy emphasis on doom and an even heavier emphasis on…well, heaviness. Heavy and crushing this is. As I say though, there’s more here too; atmosphere and depth are also provided for the listener’s delectation in ample abundance. Playing the style in their own way and by their own rules, ‘Marking the Day’ is an impressive and enjoyable release in more than one way, and contains greater variety and substance than you might imagine. This is the sound of a force of nature captured on tape and channelled into musical form. Nomadic Rituals is one of the best doom bands you probably haven’t discovered yet. Rectify this now. ~Nigel Holloway
Phantom Winter (Germany) – Sundown Pleasures (Golden Antenna Records)
Hey, there — wanna spend thirty-ish minutes feeling like everything in your miserable existence is even more miserable, pointless, and awful? Then German sludge slingers Phantom Winter have an album for you! ‘Sundown Pleasures’ is an acute form of acupuncture that pierces right to the heart, causing the listener to bleed out profusely — wait, that’s not what acupuncture does? Oh, then this is just a stabbing. An emotional stabbing, over and over and over again, forever. Phantom Winter knows how to find a wound and then dig in deep, delivering dual vocal punishment in primitive, guttural grunts and hellish screeches with oppressively bleak production. As long as you aren’t attached to having any happy thoughts, ‘Sundown Pleasures’ isn’t to be missed. ~Eric Seal
Saturndust (Brazil) – RLC (Self-Released)
I found Saturndust’s sophomore effort ‘RLC’ while scrolling through new Bandcamp releases a few months ago, and I was initially drawn in by the breathtaking cover art. What I discovered was an expansive effort that lives up to its artwork, as this Brazilian group blurs the line between doom/sludge and sprawling psychedelic/space rock. It’s hard to predict what each track will bring to the table, as lengthy periods of hazy instrumentals and lighter melodies suddenly give way to crushing riffs that are reminiscent of heavier doom/sludge bands like Sourvein or Conan. There’s also some plenty of Black Sabbath influence to be found in the riffing, and where ‘RLC’ stands out is in its ability to seamlessly move between all of these different elements. Whether you want straightforward, lumbering grooves or a thick atmosphere that’s both hazy and terrifying depending on what song you’re on, Saturndust can provide it. ‘RLC’ is an album you can get truly lost in, so crank it up and dive right in. ~Chris Dahlberg
Shepherd (India) – Garden of Hate: Live Riffalocalypse (Self-Released)
This sludge trio from Bangalore has been busy since the release of their well-received debut album, ‘Stereolithic Riffalocalypse’. Last year the band released demo versions of the album and a couple months ago they released a live album, ‘Garden of Hate’. Recorded at the B Flat in Bangalore, the release features 4 tracks from ‘Stereolithic Riffalocalypse’ with a fair bit of improvisation. The band also covers Kyuss ‘ Gardenia and Alice in Chains’ Rain When I Die in their unique style. Listeners will get to experience the live Shepherd sound has not been touched up much. A must listen to doom/sludge fans. ~Peter Kotikalapudi