In building a genealogical gauge of sub-genre parentage and influential heavy rock lineage beyond the millennium an ovular, slightly blurred Venn diagram begins to form between the branches most closely shared by doom metal and stoner rock. Without any serious acknowledgement of sludge’s nearby but raw-dogged influences and serious precursor status the marriage of California-born stoner music style, attitude and presentation within modernized hard rock circles across the globe would quickly catch the ears of the cholecalciferol deficient ‘new order’ of stoner-adjacent doom metal in the UK. Where Sleep and Electric Wizard would eventually stake their presence on their most classic stoner/doom metal albums that’d serve as a machine-template, a portal of exemplar evolution a la Arthur C. Clarke‘s Monoliths in his Space Odyssey series for the new face of the genre from that point. Revisionist as it might seem on paper the limited and slightly inbred genealogy in question is massively evident in terms of sonic evolution; The guitar tones picked, the modus of songwriting employed, the imagery and the greater species of stoner doom that excites the greatest numbers of folks worldwide is ultimately -still- a permutation of the heralded renders of ‘Dopethrone’ and, arguably, ‘Dopesmoker’. If you aren’t at least comfortable with the content and production techniques of these two albums you’ve likely missed out on hundreds if not thousands of records released in the ~two decades since. Belfast sludge/doom metal band Slomatics started kicking their own can down the road back in 2004, arguably on the cutting edge of sludge’s extreme downtuned sonic excess as it bled heavy and permanently into stoner/doom metal DNA. The trio have persisted with non-stop activity for the last fifteen years having been on a roll since at least 2012 beyond their breakthrough split record with Conan in 2011. Now this thier sixth full-length, ‘Canyons’, comes slow and searching towards new heights in 2019, an old faithful modus and an easy demeanor in hand.
Though I own the previous two records I’d no clue that they were the latter two thirds of a trilogy of sorts and Slomatics remark today that ‘Canyons’ is a proverbial point of freshness, a new bout of freedom from the source material as it were. I felt something completely unrelated to their intentions, a sort of cloudy sorrow buzzing about the mind throughout, but the newly adventurous approach wasn’t stymied by this. I was a few minutes into “Cosmic Guilt” when I’d gotten two distinct references at once, first a punchy sludge/doom rock buzz typically reserved for Torche (or, Floor even) and the second a lumbering jerk of stoner metal melody a la late 90’s/early 2000’s Cathedral. Something old and something new at once, a set of ideas still very much within Slomatics wheelhouse just bigger and more dramatic. The momentum continues strongly through “Telemachus My Son” and I’d say this represents the most compelling pair of songs the band have written since ‘Estron’ in 2014. Beyond those two pieces and the brilliant 9+ minute opener “Gears of Despair” I’m not sure any of the material on ‘Canyons’ holds up, much of it is redundant or ‘filler’ interludes. The one exception on Side B is absolutely “Mind Fortresses on Theia”, the one unanimous standout piece that brings back some of the subtle keyboards and a spray of psych-sludge in the second half. I won’t say the tracklist is all golden but more than half of the non-interlude songs make up for the less interesting points along the way.
At no point during my time with ‘Canyons’ did I feel anything particularly profound reaching out and cracking through my skull. There were points of gorgeous yearning, some impressively shaped progressions, and smooth-but-dramatic vocal performances but nothing that had me sagging in my chair drooling onto the carpet as I had when I’d first discovered ‘Estron’. A mildly-good and level feeling isn’t such a crime in the context of stoner/doom and sludge variants though, I did find myself hoping for something even more adventurous around the corner than the generally similar pace and plodding affect throughout. It is all very regular but solid all the same so, there is something to be said for a consistent and professional record that hits all of the right points within a well established doom sub-genre. It is, however, inescapably a ‘genre’ record from a band hitting upon a gorgeous bout of comfort zone and for that reason I can see the lasting appeal of this sixth Slomatics record. It is classic Slomatics and probably the finest mix, set of hooks, and vocal performance of theirs to date. On my end as the listener who knows their discography fairly well, ‘Canyons’ might replace the last record of theirs in my collection but it probably won’t be something I’m drawn back to unless the cover art is on display. Highly recommended, solely for the ratio of great moments to merely average ones. For preview I’d suggest “Mind Fortresses on Theia” to start as it is a big and pleasantly dynamic listen and then from there carry that thread back to Side A with “Telemachus My Son” and you should have a pretty good idea of how you’ll gel with the rest of the material on ‘Canyons’.
Nimbus arrays. 3.75/5.0
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