Progressive sludge metal. Sorta sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Progressive metal is all about fast, technical sections chock-full of crazy time changes and head-spinning instrumentation; sludge metal is pretty much the exact opposite in just about every way. Of course, in metal music, when there’s a will, there’s a way, and so of course some bands have figured out just how to bring the two together in a manner that combines the best elements of both.
Given our proclivity here for covering progressive metal, and our extreme love for sludge, it was only really natural that this starter kit was gonna happen someday. Progressive sludge metal really is one of the best subgenres of metal when executed properly: it’s fluid, dynamic, and enthralling, but still manages to pack a hell of a punch due to its deliciously riffy nature. Crazy technical instrumental passages unleash a flurry of tension-inducing time changes at the speed of light before everything just slams to a halt and unleashes the most crushing groove imaginable this side of Neurosis. It’s like if you were boxing Muhammad Ali (rest in peace), but after a few minutes of his trademark uptempo shuffle, he pulled out a sledgehammer and split your skull open.
It bears mentioning that any previous reader of Heavy Blog is going to be familiar with at least one or two of these three bands: Intronaut’s 2015 album, The Direction of Last Things, was our collective album of the year last year, and we’ve spent a fair amount of time in the past covering both of the other two bands. However, we’ve never really covered any of them together at any point, nor have we directly spoken on this genre as a whole, which is why today, I’m here to bring together Starter Kit: Progressive Sludge!
Mastodon – Blood Mountain
Now, I’m sure at least some of you are asking, “why isn’t this Leviathan? Is this guy off his rocker?!” But hear me out: Blood Mountain is more catchy and less dense than what is widely considered to be the best Mastodon album, and I’m sure that everyone can come to agree that that makes it a better place to start with the band’s sludgier side. It’s much more diverse, too: opener “The Wolf Is Loose” is a rip-roaring quasi-punk banger with howled vocals and ear-splitting guitars, and the following track, “Crystal Skull,” brings the pace down a notch before leading into “Sleeping Giant,” a track which, true to its namesake, builds from a small opening into a thrumming colossus of midtempo riffing. Everything is much more accessible and easier to follow, yet still carries the unmistakable prog sludge banner forward, and that’s what makes Blood Mountain an excellent place to start in this genre.
Intronaut – Prehistoricisms
If you’ve even looked at the blog in the past year or so you’ve definitely seen us gush about Intronaut’s most recent album, but did you know they have other releases out as well? A band with multiple releases – crazy, right? Prehistoricisms is really their undeniable masterpiece, even considering how good the rest of their releases are. It’s here where their trademark jazzy, meandering prog sound intersects with their sludge metal roots to create one of the most interesting-sounding albums within the genre. Joe Lester’s fretless bass creates a rolling, humming undertone off of which the dual guitar attack of David Timnick and Sacha Dunable builds to form textures that are equal parts lush and aggressive. Of course, drummer virtuoso Danny Walker being behind the kit also means that the percussion is out of this world, perfectly fitting whatever mood it needs to. If you want an entrance into the genre from a weirder, more intricate place, Prehistoricisms is absolutely the place to start.
East of the Wall – The Apologist
Last, but not least, comes East of the Wall. A criminally unknown progressive sludge metal band, all three of their albums are phenomenal and demand attention and careful listening to get the most out of, but cracking their puzzle is extremely rewarding. Destructive riffs give way to jazz sections and mindbending solos before building back up like a second, larger tidal wave following an already-insurmountable predecessor, and tight, punchy progressive metal parts morph into head-snapping riffs on the drop of a pin. Everything about East of the Wall is quintessential prog sludge, making The Apologist a great place to start with the sound.
- The Ocean – Pelagial
- Baroness – Red Album
- Mastodon – Leviathan
- Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
- East of the Wall – Redaction Artifacts