(HEAVY FRIENDS is the segment where Robby Beck discusses the latest and greatest in the world of heavy music.)
Now this is the band's first shred of new material in 8 years, and like their previous three albums Kurt Ballou has been recruited to handle production duties. Kurt is one of my favorite metal producers, because the sound he brings to his projects always has the perfect blend of grittiness and clarity. The albums he produces always sound professional, but the brutality of the bands' performances is always left intact. But the sound Kurt brings to No, and the sound he's brought to the previous work of Old Man Gloom that he's produced, have relied less on thestudio sheen and more on the grit, but also the grime, the sludge, so to speak. But that mix always works out incredibly well for them, because when the band bangs out a riff or lays on a groove, it sounds as punishing and heavy as a great sludge or doom record should.
And that level of punishment continues on this album. The riffs are crushing as all hell, the slower parts make you feel like you're being crushed by a half dozen boulders Giles Corey-style, and the more hardcore (Converge, Cave In) reminiscent moments give you the sensation that you're being caught in a viscous tornado with debris hitting you in every direction you're forced to turn. And then spots like the climax of "To Carry the Flame" are simultaneously heavy and euphoric, a balance that I wish I could've heard more of, honestly.
But the ambient passages have always been part of what sets Old Man Gloom apart, but unfortunately those seem to be the downside of this particular record for me. There are three tracks where they are used extensively, "Shadowed Hand", "Rats", and the closer "Shuddering Earth". The first two mentioned tunes seem to be weighed down by the ambient sections rather than aided by them, and that's because they're not near the best this band can do as far as creating interesting sounds. I never got bored before when OMG records went into an ambient piece, but on these two particular tracks I find myself actively bored. The passages usually don't have any interesting sounds in the mix, and when they do they're in and out too soon for them to be digested. A lot of the rest tends to sound like "airplane music", which is fine if that's all a song is, but that doesn't quite work well with the kind of sludge this band does. You find yourself impatiently waiting for guitars or drums to kick in because there's nothing much to latch on to in the meantime. At least that's how I feel.
The final track "Shuddering Earth" is the exception in the bunch though, and maybe that's because during the ambient section of the track (which is mostly the last half of the song) the band utilizes noise more so than any other, and there's an actual progression through the noise. The track really goes somewhere. And I really feel like if the previous two tracks I mentioned were as interesting in their "quiet" moments, they would've greatly benefited from it.
I guess another issue I'd have with the record is that the heavier parts don't have as much character as I think they could. I'm amazed at the sound and performances of the songs while they're on, but unfortunately I don't find as much memorability from them as I would an album from any of the members' main bands, or even older Old Man Gloom records.
But I honestly can't deny something good when I'm hearing it. I don't think No is a fantastic record, and I think some of their past ones have higher replay power than this; but it's still a solid listen, and a recommendation for anyone that wants an interesting take on sludge or doom metal.
Score: Lite 7
Stream the whole damn thing below via Bandcamp:
(Robby is a gloomy, gloomy motherfucker. Find out more on his Twitter @ClydeNut!)