Mentally scouring the post-Y2K stock of innovative heavy music it is nigh impossible to avoid pointing directly at Relapse Records and Southern Lord for tapping into an admirable stable of sludge metal’s most influential artists. Matt Pike in particular doesn’t get enough credit for what he did in releasing High on Fire‘s ‘Surrounded by Thieves’, a record that took a blender to sludge’s doomed carcass and inseminated it with a jarring number of mid-paced thrashing riffs. Any revisionist could argue against this point but I certainly witnessed a flood of similar approaches post-2002 and of the few worthwhile contemporaries Chicago’s Lair of the Minotaur were the most inspiring. Formed between members of 7000 Dying Rats and Pelican their brand of sludge would be constantly chided as an also-ran following the initial success of Mastodon and High on Fire but I always saw Lair of the Minotaur as a far more daring project that pushed their sound to greater extremes without all of the self-conscious pretense of their peers.
‘Carnage’ is the sort of record you wouldn’t expect to hold up with it’s timely stoner metal production and bone-liquefying death metal guitar tone but it remains just as much of a ride today as it was in 2004. I remember the rabid legions of anti-Mastodon chatroom heels like it was yesterday, ready to strike with Lair of the Minotaur if you even said the word sludge or mentioned ‘Remission’. In hindsight of course they were right but I’d personally lost track of the band’s stuff after that first album. They’d gone in a heavier direction than expected and focused on the thrash influences that would differentiate their sound from the bands they had been compared to so heavily. At that point that Lair of the Minotaur had slightly more in common with bands like Usurper and Warhammer than popular sludge bands of the day and this would change as different members would join/leave with each record.
‘Evil Power’ (2010) appeared to have gotten a full handle on a true 50/50 split of thrash riffs with sludge hits with some of the stoner metal stripped back. The second track from this latest EP ‘Dragon Eagle of Chaos’ appears to be an unreleased B-side from those sessions with Sanford Parker (Graves at Sea, ex-Minsk) and this contrasts “Konsult the Bones” with the title track by a wide margin. I felt ‘Evil Power’ was a weirdly polished version of Lair of the Minotaur that wanted to appeal to retro-thrash fans; With “Dragon Eagle of Chaos” the heady return to a thicker ‘Blessed Black Wings’-esque production sound, savage doom riffs, and Tom G. Warrior style narrative vocals all coalesce in rapturous harmony. If this track portends things to come then sign my ass up and leave 2010 far behind.
To thwart this impending doom. 3.5/5.0
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