The true secret of the seemingly instantaneous magic felt upon jumping into just about any one of the ten full-lengths (The Lord Weird) Slough Feg has given us in the last twenty odd years is an easy sense of classic heavy metal songwriting an authenticity that stems directly from a marked intention to keep their approach simple and non-referential. The only chance guitarist/vocalist Mike Scalzi (ex-Hammers of Misfortune) has given himself to slip into the commonplace or trite arena of modern heavy metal comes briefly with the nostalgia of the odd cover song, at worst. Er, well, in the case of ‘New Organon’ nostalgia as a discombobulating torsion upon the process doesn’t apply when it is almost entirely self-referential nostalgia. Most any established fan might sneer at the thought, considering the band had seemingly changed very little since their self-titled debut in 1996 but at least two eras of Slough Feg exist depending on how much you consider the affect of the non-Scalzi members involved. Mark I The Lord Weird Slough Feg proper was any configuration featuring drummer Greg Haa (Cauldron Born, Briton Rites) who’d exited after the bands (arguable) breakthrough fifth album ‘Atavism’ (2005). The first preface to the enlightenment ‘New Organon’ offers in 2019 is that it’d turn back towards the history of The Lord Weird years while dancing between pillars of philosophical thought but, this is almost reductive of the absolute magic run of records Scalzi produced prior to 2009 which were, comparatively speaking, ‘more’ and over-the-top on every count. Instead ‘New Organon’ is perhaps the most stripped back to the bone set of songs we’ve gotten from the band well, ever, or at least since the dryness of ‘The Animal Spirits’ in 2010.
How many heavy metal bands can you say fired off a great album out of the gates and then went on to make a new better record four more times, in succession? Manilla Road for sure, arguably Skyclad for my own taste, and well wherever your list goes from there that band is surely one of the greats; You’d have to count Slough Feg among them, too, and by 2007 it was set in stone, these guys were one of the greats and goddamn if each of those records doesn’t hold up better than a thousand other similar pieces today. Now, I’ll admit ‘Twilight of the Idols’ (1998) wasn’t perfect but I could write a couple thousand gushing words of praise for the four albums that came after it. I was lucky enough to have discovered the band with ‘Traveller’ (2003) and for good reason with arguably the most developed theme and guitar compositions of their discography, a feat that’d almost be outdone with my personal favorite ‘Hardworlder’ (2007). At that point we’d hit a transitional line-up and then today’s Mark II line-up was more or less secured since 2005, though the drummer’s seat has swapped with some regularity. I did consider myself a die-hard fan for a few years but the lackluster production and songwriting of their 2009-2014 material had me more or less happy enough with the six great albums I’d already gotten. At some point they’d either leaned into the ‘Maiden-intended/Thin Lizzy-manifested’ harmonies too hard or grew too far out of that righteous Brocas Helm-esque (Maiden-esque, then?) swing of their earlier records. Some of that energy and sound returns here on ‘New Organon’ and perhaps only because they’ve made a point to keep things incredibly simple. An album that isn’t overthought, that uses western philosophy as a bridging theme as just absurd enough of a takeaway to be distinctly Slough Feg, and I mean that in the nicest way.
“Headhunter” kicks things off in the most genuine way possible, by virtue of it being a song Scalzi had written for the band’s 1992 demo tape. This is fitting if you’re already familiar with the bands pre-1996 demo material which is primitive and rehearsal quality. The arc of the album momentarily appears interested in conveying the evolution of the band’s sound over the years alongside references to the general history of philosophy of the ‘western’ world but by the third track it is clear that is not the case. At face value the references appear somewhat ‘Philosophy 101’ but whatever adjunct professor who’d taught the courses I took in college didn’t necessarily mention Rousseau, Bacon, or whomever else inspired the more lofty lyrical themes but, none of these songs resort to pure edutainment. What the greater arc of the album says, intentional or not, is that “We are here today because our thought has evolved this way.” This isn’t as accusatory as it sounds, or dire even, as “Exegis – The Tragic Hooligan” sees Scalzi prodding at a caricature of himself who’d never fully grown out of his teenage years. Something any persistent long term fan of anything might relate to. As much as I’d struggled to find a deep or serious meaning therein at first I’d soon realize it was a Slough Feg record, the sort of band that is always smirking just a bit no matter what. The major takeaway then becomes “Look, we’re a bit old and this is all bit silly…” and in good fun.
There is a bit of a ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ (2000) vibe to some of the more uptempo tracks and “Coming of Age in the Milky Way” has just a bit of that space-operatic weirdness that padded out ‘Hardworlder’ but they’ve not intentionally hit upon the standards of the past such as the early albums folk-metal tinge. I did feel a bit more Maiden in some of the guitar work compared to the past couple of records, especially “Being and Nothingness” and maybe parts of “The Cynic” but a head-first throwback to the olden days ‘New Organon’ is not. They’ve either missed that mark or simply not been as dead serious as “Headhunter” had made things appear to start. The most interesting outlier otherwise is the Adrian Maestas written early Manilla Road style street-crawler “Uncanny” where he also provides vocals. I really enjoyed this moment and it is a fantastic song to the point where I’d felt the album needed more than one of those so that it didn’t feel like a guest appearance or (initially) a particularly deep-cut cover song I couldn’t identify. It isn’t a throwback record or a grand ‘return to form’, it is a Slough Feg record that couldn’t be more straight forward in execution and to pretend otherwise would beg the speakers need to return to the first decade of the bands legacy.
As nice as it is to put on Slough Feg album that sounds like they care about what they’re doing, I’m torn between generally enjoying ‘New Organon’ and finding it redundant as an experience. I own five albums (six total) from this band that I’m more likely to grab instead of this one for a casual listen but, there is no strain upon my mind as fan in adding this to that pool because it fills some of the gaps from 2009-2014 that I’d not been interested in. If you’re not already a fan of the group ‘New Organon’ is a good introduction to start with as it is a somewhat tamed glance at their early work that aligns with the previous two records at the same time. “The Apology” and “Sword of Machiavelli” both use repetition and pronounced chorus in a way that reminds me of the sort of overwrought style that I’d enjoyed on ‘Hardworlder’ so I did eventually warm up to this record once I’d stopped comparing it to past Slough Feg records. That might be counter-intuitive considering it has been pushed out there as a return to form to some degree, but it holds up better as a leaner, slightly less meaner vision of what the group have been doing this last decade. Moderately high recommendation. For preview I’d suggest a best foot forward of “Headhunter” and “The Apology” then make sure you don’t move on from the tracklist until you’ve heard “Uncanny” as well.
No gods to intervene. 3.75/5.0
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