In the annals of sludge’s angst-ridden history, 16 conjure up a plethora of brutal lyricism and sonic output that goes back to the fledgling years of the genre in the early/mid-‘90s. Their music boils with searing diatribes from the depths of pain, anguish, substance abuse, violence, apathy, depression and a myriad of other transgressive topical areas. 2002’s Zoloft Smile, with tracks like ‘Balloon Knot’ and ‘Born To Lose’, is a glaring example. After a hiatus from 2004 through to 2007 (the only original members now remaining are Bobby Ferry and Cris Jerue), 16 continue to punish the senses into beautiful, bloody pulp.
Their latest release, Dream Squasher, is no exception to this longstanding prowess. 16 begin the album with a roar about family relationships – a father and who wants what is best for his daughter, and the bond between a person and their dog. Compared to much of their previous output these two opening tracks are wholesomely introspective, while still maintaining the brooding and bleak atmosphere the band are renowned for.
Continuing to step outside of the group’s norm are ‘Sadlands’ and the opening to ‘Agora (Killed By A Mountain)’. The former track is done with clean vocals, something previously unheard of for the Pacific Northwest outfit. The latter contains a soulful harmonica solo that segues into a familiarly aggressive style. Both tracks have their roots in blues and although it may at first seem odd to hear the group putting forth elements that are much more tame than you’d expect, they execute them with the same precision and power they are known for, just through a different lens. In a way these tracks are an homage to the roots of sludge – the blues.
The rest of Dream Squasher tears along with harrowing intensity, and is the pinnacle of what to expect from 16. ‘Acid Tongue’ in particular, though, bores into the ears with such aggressive force it feels like your skull is getting pulverised with a sonic crowbar. The samples throughout echo the sentiment of how humanity is truly worse than any other living creature. Cris Jerue’s vocals burn the message of “the skill of fuck you” into the listener’s existence. It is a track that seals the deal for the album as a quintessential offering of sludge metal’s roots in today’s scope.
Dream Squasher is out now on Relapse Records. Order here.
Words by: Garrett A. Tanner