Sludge metal was born out of hardcore punk bands discovering Black Sabbath. The greatest sludge albums combine all the raw aggression and rage of hardcore with the slow tension and power of doom metal. Since its beginnings in late 80s, the genre has grown into punk’s willingness to experiment and created some of the most forward thinking metal albums of all time from the likes of Mastodon, Neurosis, and Isis. In other words, though sludge combines fairly simple ingredients, the results are almost always sophisticated.
Timeworn, hailing from Norway, continues in sludge metal’s trend towards the progressive. Though only their second album, Venomous High showcases a band who is as comfortable with their own unique sound as they are with instrumental proficiency. While the anguish and the aggression of Venomous are definite highlights on the album, it is rarely left alone to speak for itself. And that’s a good thing. For every time the band channels an aforementioned sludge legend, they counter with moments of atmosphere and post-rock tenderness. Instead of just hammering out their anger, Timeworn expertly channels their emotion into meaningful, crafty compositions. On top of all this detail, the band always gives size and depth to their songs resulting in an album that leaves a lasting impact and doesn’t just end up a pile of notes and riffs.
“The Infectious Gloom,” for instance, starts off innocent enough with a Sabbath-y riff and a nice tambourine back beat (a move few metal bands could pull off). As the song transitions, the riff doesn’t simply change to a different riff but instead transitions into a similar figure a little higher on the neck with some drone high notes in the lead guitar. This small variation from the norm gives the song more continuity and flow that the average sludge or doom band. Though one of the simpler songs on the album, it covers a lot of ground from a hardcore-style call-and-response section to tribal shouts to a melodic, anthemic chorus.
The first four tracks form another standout moment on the album. These songs are through-composed and play like one continuous piece. “Measure of Gold” opens with a rare use of clean vocals and builds into the album’s first real groove that sounds like a mix between gothic rock and something off a poppy metalcore album, in a good way. The chorus on this track is huge and so are the dissonances. It’s the perfect mix of salty and sweet. The huge waves of sound fade straight into the very Dillinger Escape Plan intro of “All Chiefs”. In contrast to the previous song’s restraint and power, “All Chiefs” lets the anger flow while still producing a fairly catchy chorus. “The Trail” steps further into the world of electronic music giving the listener a well-deserved break from the huge metal sounds and fades directly into “Black Peak Blues”, a more psychedelic affair.
There are a few moments on the album that sag. The opening few tracks are so rich in experimental instrumentation and ventures into other genres, it leaves some of the more straight-forward songs seemingly bare. It’s as if Timeworn ran out of interesting ideas after that first chunk. Interestingly enough, Timeworn never really departs from pop structures too much. Most songs revolve around choruses and other repeated material allowing the riffs and atmosphere to speak for itself but when these elements are more generic the band really loses its proggy claim to fame. Lastly, there are times when the band channels their influences too severely, like on the far too Mastodonian opening riff to “Night of Owls”.
Overall, Timeworn plays the double role of sludge band and progressive metal band well, but stumbles slightly. Venomous High is a sinister masterpiece with accessible choruses and melodies as well as rich, well-composed music.
Timeworn’s Venomous High is out now. You can purchase it on the band’s Bandcamp here.