Gas-huffing existentialist phenomenological self-examination inspired by the flattened aura that regularly getting lit provides is a major cornerstone of creating ‘the good shit’ in terms of classic sludge metal ethos alongside chronic depression, Black Sabbath riffs, and hardcore punk-fed globalist frustration. If you’re feeling reductive and sour it’d be easy to say that between Grief, Buzzov•en, Crowbar and Eyehategod a quick glance at the surface of modern sludge suggests subsequent generations merely shift and exaggerated between those templates post-1994. The sheer plasticity of the sub-genre’s conception is testament to its versatility and offers solid reasoning for continued popularity. In fact not a year goes by where the old grizzled bones of sludge aren’t rearranged in fantastic ways be it the post-Amebix bludgeon of Dystopia and Damad or the noisome blackened hiss of Indian or Thou. The limits of sludge metal seem impossible to exhaust with every form of embellishment and sub-genre crossover scoured yet, the further musicians stray from that impetus the less impact they seem capable of. On their third full-length in the span of twenty years Brainoil provide a masterclass study in bending sludge’s past towards their future-self without losing the sub-genre’s soul.
Nostalgic for and insatiably connected to the aforementioned earliest wave of sludge metal that best capitalized on a mix of 80’s hardcore entanglement and streamlined doom metal riff meat, a fellow like me connects with a band like Oakland, California’s Brainoil fast and easily. Originally a guy with a guitar and a drum machine, the solo efforts of Greg Wilkinson (Deathgrave, ex-Laudanum) evolved towards sludge metal in the latter half of the 90’s until 2001 when splits with Iron Lung and Cruevo suggested that they could pick up the torch for a then flailing future for Eyehategod. It seems like a lifetime ago I was scouring every metal magazine I could find looking for an ‘in’ to buy the first Brainoil album, ‘Brainoil’ (2003) when it released and because I was pretty lazy in my twenties, to no avail; I wouldn’t actually hear it until Tankcrimes reissued it a decade later, a few years after their second album ‘Death of This Dry Season’ (2011).
What’s with the long-ass wait between albums? Guitarist Nate Smith had a busy gig with Stormcrow for the first decade of the millennium, drummer Ira Harris had similarly ‘big deal’ duties in Watch Them Die and Wilkinson‘s interest in audio engineering developed in tandem with Brainoil as he put in the work to put Earhammer Studios on the map. The sheer number of releases Wilkinson has engineered, produced or mixed since going full-time around 2008 is staggering and to think he’s taken a major role in two of his own projects released this year is even more impressive. I don’t think it is reaching too hard to suggest that working with all of those extreme metal/crust punk hybrids and death metal bands has rubbed off into Brainoil‘s oeuvre.
‘Singularity to Extinction’ is a different beast that offers a complex and ruinous form of sludge equally informed by the blasting deathgrind of early Bolt Thrower and the witlessly technical structural hex of late 80’s/early 90’s Carcass (see: ‘Symphonies of Sickness’) For the well versed old school death metal fan this will immediately indicate the major influences of albums like Disgrace‘s ‘Grey Misery’ but the other side of the oft-flipped coin comes with the post-Eyehategod doomed-punk elaborations of Iron Monkey as well as modern sludge metal standardization that holds up next to everything from High on Fire to Thou. Brainoil have never been so extensively polarized within their scope of extremity and that is to say they’ve never been a band I’d call ‘technical’ previous. The punk is more ripping, the sludge hits a deeper bitterness while deep death metal growls and masterful time-changes provide some truly effective variation; The turn-on-a-dime capability of this trio gives ‘Singularity to Extinction’ an alternating current of electrifying sludge/doom and adrenaline-dependent death/crust throughout all while still maintaining a deeply cavernous atmospheric bent.
From the cosmic black-and-white world eater cover art to the heavy pre-‘The IVth Crusade’ death metal snort applied to this new sound I was an immediate fan of ‘Singularity of Extinction’. No longer easily compared to Eyehategod or Iron Monkey without a major caveat Brainoil achieve greater distinction and dynamic by pulling in old school death metal and enthused grindcore/punk influences to amplify their classic sludge metal sound. At 28 minutes the record spins pretty fast but really holds up well to repeat listens with every song offering a point of interest and impressive blend of sub-genre. I couldn’t get enough of it and Brainoil will end up being my highest sludge metal recommendation for the year. Personal favorite songs I’d recommend in preview include “The Spectre’s Vile Hand (The Shock Doctrine)” as the longest and most performative example of this newfangled Brainoil sound, “Blank Static Void” straight up for its riffs, and “Corrosive Ribbons of Light” to really hear that classic UK deathgrind bent spread thick.
Cling to nothing. 4.5/5.0
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