Nobody’s shaman nor any fool’s guide through their screaming lysergic calls to the void, Portland, Oregon’s Tithe offer a soul-dissolving juxtaposition of bleakest human nature and its unwilling correction by way of joyous psycholytic agents on their debut full-length, ‘Penance’. A product of minds long unbound from stricture, severed by ego-death, and expressing traits of sludge metal, death metal, and notably their grindcore past in Infinite Waste, this first gasp of air from the trio narrates in bursts of black, white, and technicolor abrasion crossing unthinkable chasms with their burly sludge-ground death machine. How well their stylized meshing of worlds lands upon your temple will ultimately be a matter of how well you digest the chosen narrative style and which direction(s) you lean when considering the triad of extreme metal palettes sourced.
Pulling out of the vibrant and violent Oakland, California scene somewhere around 2017 guitarist Matt Eiseman and drummer Kevin Swartz (Lord Dying) would find themselves in Oregon not long after Infinite Waste had gone on pause or, the move caused the pause, either way they’d recruit Sabateur‘s bassist Alex Huddleston and form a trio proper. Inheriting bursts of deathgrind and sludge-attuned voicing characteristic of their past discographies Tithe quickly readied themselves with a strong point of view, recording an impressive and professional self-titled demo (‘Tithe‘, 2017) that’d directly indicate what ‘Penance’ would sound like: A Crowbar circa ’95 attuned classic sludge metal tonality applied to aggressive-but-simple death metal modus, leaning towards the easier mid-paced spectrum of brutal and deathgrind structures — Nothing as extreme as Cave Bastard nor as blackened (or hardcorish) as Glacial Tomb or Hierophant, but still in that same death/sludge metal categorization. The way I’ve been summing up their sound is basically death metal Buzzov•en, and a heavy use of sampled speech/movie clips reinforces that mid-to-late 90’s sludge metal feeling.
In terms of pure sound design, the drum recording is of particular note for its distinctly clangorous snare hits which recall early 2000’s deathgrind just enough without sounding dated, triggered or amateurish; This adds some sublime severity to the all-in force of songs like “Scum” and “Palindrome” along the way while also creating a sort of ‘compressed’ feeling when in the midst of the full listen. Spaciousness, doomed rips and freeing roars into the abyss are present and characteristic but the bulk of the experience is blasted within a uniquely achieved pocket. This should suggest that despite all of the implied psychedelia on my part in the introduction to this review, psychedelia-charged musical elements aren’t a huge part of Tithe‘s sound so much as mental health, depraved human bondage, and the experience of psychoactive drugs end up being the loosely tied thematic of ‘Penance’. I’d spent some time blasting the album making out lyrics and figuring there was some greater examination of LSD’s grand human experiment in the 1970’s, the horrific history of mental health institutions in the United States, and so forth but the album isn’t pushing a direct narrative on the listener so much as they are presenting a kaleidoscopic vision that connects loose and dream-like horrors with the unshackled bliss of mind-altering drugs — This is the primal spirit of ‘old school’ sludge metal made flesh, the desperation of mental anguish cut loose of any muzzle and swinging hard.
I can’t stand the use of movie clips, voice samples, speech excerpts and all related miscellany when placed into music and this goes back to buying Skinless‘ first album back when I was a teenager. I don’t want to hear it during a live show (fuck post-rock bands who do this) and definitely don’t want to hear it on a record that I might spin 3-4 times in a single sitting. As much as I love the clip they use from Todd Solondz’ black comedy Happiness (1998) for the opening of “Scum” when I’d heard it for the tenth time I began skipping that part of the song (and eventually the song entirely) and the same goes for the end of “Apostasy”. This does end up dinging the overall score of the record, not because I am that fired up about the clips themselves but the realization upon reflection that I’d remembered those interjections better than I did most of the riffs on the record. It was really only those two clips that pulled me out of it, though; Otherwise the sampling conjures meaningful depiction of severe mental home abuses, LSD testing on patients, and such for the sake of building meaningful atmosphere throughout the album. “Psychedelic Neurogenesis” is a fine example of a piece that does this particularly well.
Fast-blasted deathgrind strokes placed nearby slow-blooming sludge/doom breakdowns create the major dynamic that helps ‘Penance’ stand out among the currently pretty light handful of bands exploring the death-sludge landscape with any real sense today. For my own taste the least adorned and most stylistically varied songs (“Scum”, “Psychedelic Neurogenesis”) are the ones with the longest shelf-life on this debut but the opener was easily the one piece that nailed the seamless combination of death metal, deathgrind and sludge metal best. The rest of the album is certainly just as worthy but only a few tracks really live up to the scorched earth of the opener. No doubt Tithe show up prepared on this debut and although I found some of their choices irksome all manner of their efforts lead to a memorable listening experience. I’d aim this one more towards the lover of extreme sludge metal, blackened variations and whatnot, rather than the death metal purist though some love of death/crust punk hybrids could be a meaningful predisposition for the indoctrination that ‘Penance’ offers. A moderately high recommendation.
Moderately high recommendation. 3.75/5.0
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