With the dissolution of Mannheim, Germany based sludge/doom metal collective Black Shape of Nexus after a solid decade-long run the six member crew would splinter off into at least two viable projects. The first to fire off a warning shot would be Curbstomper, a heavy sludge band also featuring members of Ultha that focused on inspired NOLA-esque southern rock tangents, and the second would be more of a spiritual successor in the form of quartet Bellrope. If you’re familiar with groups like Horn of the Rhino and Lair of the Minotaur you’ll quickly get where Black Shape of Nexus were coming from towards the end of their run when they covered Hellhammer (a 12+ minute rendition of “Triumph of Death”) on their fourth full-length, ‘Carrier’. No doubt you’ll figure Bellrope are vaulting off of that same springboard today after putting in years of work leading up to their ‘ideology free’ debut, ‘You Must Relax’; A raw, noise-driven modern sludge record appears resultant of their aims to distort the symbolically daft doom metal norms that’d bored them long enough enough to inspire such defiance.
Against all meaning, and gratingly unpolished as a point of interest, Bellrope appear ‘modern’ in the sense that they offer sludge with raw edge enough that’ll easily incur comparison to both Ramesses and Thou. That said, their sound more clearly invokes groups heavily rooted in classic doom metal such as Burning Witch despite the total abandon applied to the feral vocal performances and intermittent ‘noise’ elements. Beyond those stylistic semblances ‘You Must Relax’ is unorthodox in most respects, kicking things off with a three minute blast of insufferable guitar feedback and yowling before buzzing into the first of roughly five 10+ minute sludge/doom tracks, “Old Overholt”; With those roaring vocals set atop lumbering, fairly simple sludge grooves it becomes apparent that Bellrope are more-or-less matching the intensity of their previous work in Black Shape of Nexus while bringing a relatively ‘easier’ listening experience. Of course I say that despite the pointed focus on classic ear-shredding feedback (see: Khanate‘s debut) for transitional moments and muddy, overblown bass tone. It is all relative depending on where you sit on the sludge metal scale of abrasive noise versus stoner doom metal’s structured tone-driven slickness.
The title track should be an easily remembered standout for the first several listens but the most compelling song of the bunch for my own tastes came with “TD200”, a rousing monolith of sludge featuring a quasi-duet from Arne Heesch (Ulme) and Yvonnne Ducksworth (Jingo de Lunch) both of underrated noise rock/sludge monsters Treedeon. Beyond their distinct vocal work the song finds Bellrope at their best, riding a hypnotic sludge groove to full impact. No doubt the weathered sludge hound (or doom loving stoner) might not be fully on board with ‘You Must Relax’ until they’ve heard the final track “CBD/Hereinunder”. The bumbling half-improvised lurch of this eighteen minute track builds out of the previous tracks groove into a wah-abusing Dave Chandler-esque jam that is all the more memorable for how hard they ride that groove in a less structured (feeling) setting.
While I found the complete listening experience unbalanced, unsure of where it’d go, and damn obnoxious upon first listen around the fifth time through ‘You Must Relax’ felt smarter than I’d given Bellrope credit. The noise elements are yet experimentally intertwined, the use of samples as an extraneous layer is wholly uninteresting, but their balance of charging sludge riffs, jammed-out doom and raw flippancy make for a unique listen that comes unexpected off the slightly more serious intent of Black Shape of Nexus. I’d recommend this one to the shoulder-deep sludge metal fandom, the folks who lean towards the raw and sometimes experimental void of the genre who also have a taste for modern stoner doom’s nuclear guitar tones and creeping rhythms. Moderately high recommendation. For preview “You Must Relax” should grab the doom folks first and “Old Overholt” will convince the Thou and Coffinworm kids to join in.
Noose for the knocking. 3.75/5.0
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