Slugdge – Esoteric Malacology (2018) REVIEW

Inspired largely by barely funny puns and Mastodon riffs slime-spewing slug-fantasy sludge/death metal project Slugdge took a few years to source an admirably inspired shift in style. Their fourth full-length in five years ‘Esoteric Malacology’ makes bold moves towards a technical death metal influenced sound that largely erases their previous style in favor of regal, stiff-necked progressive death metal almost indiscernible from their debut ‘Born of Slime’ if not for the clean-sung Mastodon-isms throughout. It is not satisfying in the same way that albums like ‘Gastronomicon’ were, as they’ve left behind sludge metal heft in favor of a modern death metal sound.

The slug gimmick is only useful in skirting the typical heavy metal lore and imagery for the sake of something else. What cheapens the experience still is the pun-based song titling, a leftover from their days as Tower of Wankers, as they’d do better to embrace their lyrical concepts and overarching slug fantasy metal themes with fitting song titles. Parody metal fans are always fleeting and few will convert once they realize the music is largely just as serious and joyless an experience as much else you’d find in the tech death mutantscape. Little of this matters, though, because I’m almost certain most listeners glance over the titles maybe once or twice and couldn’t make out a lyric of a death metal song if they were forced at gunpoint.

Slugdge was never the most original idea beyond their secularly appreciated aesthetic gimmickry and much of their style took bits and pieces from Coffinworm, Gojira and Mastodon while blending them with Akercocke-like death metal. If you can imagine ‘Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone’ but the clean sung parts turn towards ‘Leviathan’-era Mastodon. Some of those core concepts survive on ‘Esoteric Malacology’ but they’ve traded progressive death metal for modern technical death metal guitar work and sound. Slime gargled growls entirely replace the occasional black metal hiss of previous Slugdge records in tandem with instrumentation closer to groups like Inanimate Existence.  That is to say definitively that this isn’t a mid-paced sludge/death record as any of the previous with their previous slug trails now extinct.

Don’t despair entirely though as they’re not necessarily making dissonant Gorguts-ian homages just yet, instead much of ‘Esoteric Malacology’ makes a modern djent-tinged prog-metallic job of ‘Heartwork’ inspired death metal. If nothing else it seems well-tailored towards Willowtip and general technical death metal fandom with songs like “Crop Killer” invoking ‘Relentless Mutation’ as much as it compliments Rivers of Nihil. The strongest track of the first half “The Spectral Burrows” is probably the most memorable highlight of ‘Esoteric Malacology’ as it invokes some of the haunting melodies that made albums like ‘Gastronomicon’ so great in the first place. I only take issue with the bland guitar sound throughout. It might be brilliantly heavy and all that but the tone they’ve chosen feels flatly digital compared to most modern technical death metal.

While ‘Esoteric Malacology’ is an interesting leap away from the death/sludging doldrums and into the competitive bro-boxing world of shred ‘n croon metal it is almost too startlingly different than previous releases. It is odd to see such praise for this shift that seems to discount how special and interesting their previous work was. I appreciate this new style well enough, though and Slugdge stick out wildly within prog-tech death space even without the aesthetic gimmickry and bad puns. I’m interested to see if the band will make further leaps, or settle into this burrow, while simultaneously not dying to keep spinning this record.


Artist Slugdge
Type Album
Released March 2, 2018
BUY/LISTEN on their Bandcamp! Follow Slugdge on Facebook
Progressive Death Metal

This world was never yours. 3.0/5.0

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