Being compelled (heh) by our governments to work, play, and rest in the confines of our four walls until further notice has forced many of us, in this distilled—oddly medieval—mode of living, to re-examine the conventions and expectations by which we live. Pollution in New York City has reduced by almost 50% in the last week and in China carbon emissions fell by 25% over four weeks in February, while over here in the UK roadside levels of nitrogen dioxide have dropped to lower than average. A warm and nurturing community spirit (at least in the UK) that we suspected was there all along, has risen its head to provide support to the disadvantaged, from phone befriending services for the isolated and lonely, to reserved grocery shopping slots for the elderly and health service staff, to individuals taking it upon themselves to run errands for their elderly neighbours; we’ve all had a glimpse—even if it’s been the most cursory of glimpses—of what could be. In the aftermath of cataclysmic, consciousness-uprooting events like the one that is unfolding right now, there tends to be a period of reflection whereby we assess our actions, our decisions, our mistakes, and strive to never repeat what were deemed to be damaging to ourselves, our psyches, and our environment.
In comes charred sludge act Beggar to batter us with blackened rage, but also melt us down with grooves that just “go” like well-oiled machinery, slick and buttery but no less massive in tone. It dawned on me fairly early on that Beggarnot only borrow heavily from the proto-metal originators of the 70s, but they also take a slice of those bands’ apocalyptic, often biblical, symbolism too. Spicy and stank face-inducing opener “Blood Moon” is prime example with its titular reference to this passage in the Book of Joel in the Hebrew Bible: ‘the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes’. Sound familiar? No? Well back in the 70s there was a band that kind of invented all this metal malarkey, their name began with an ‘S’ and rhymed with ‘mammoth’. Got it yet? Ok, well they wrote this song called “War Pigs”, which spited politicians who treated ‘people just like pawns in chess’ and called for their imminent ‘judgement day’. Beggar’s trick is to soundtrack this symbolism with the thuddy, hefty southern grooves of sludge predecessors like Acid Bath, Down and Eyehategod, as well as the righteous ferocity of black metal. Take the aforementioned opener for instance, where a blast beat hailstorm eventually segues into the chunkiest of stoner riffs.
“Trepanned Head Stares at the Sun” paints grotesque imagery, as its instrumental takes us through desert rock passages that feel like the soundtrack to dying of thirst in the Chihuahuan Desert engulfed in heat haze. The buried-and-dug-up, ragged production that permeates this style of sludge doesn’t carry through exactly on Compelled To Repeat, with Beggar opting for something a little more glossy. Don’t get the wrong impression, Beggar aren’t creating cyber-sludge by any means, but they certainly aren’t channelling the sonic equivalent of a musty cellar in Louisiana either, which may have helped Compelled To Repeat stand out more as a dirge for the end times.
The most memorable moments on the album are when the band are quick on their feet and eager to jump from thrash n’ bash to burn n’ churn at the drop of a hat. “Black Cloud” is an exemplar of this with its plodding, almost jaunty, central riff which isn’t particularly rousing, but it’s when it breaks out into a searing refrain marked by Charlie Davis’ stricken shriek and revving guitars that it gains the edge it was previously missing. Too much during the runtime however, am I finding myself stuck spectating a tennis match between the darker, more extreme elements and the penchant for a 70s throwback. Each player’s performance is no doubt impressive for the small increment of time I have my attention on them, but I’d much prefer to keep my head still and focused on one singular entity, a more fluid synthesis of the two styles.
Compelled to Repeat is available April 3 via APF Records.