You can throw all the malevolent black metal, ruthless grindcore and guttural death metal you like at someone, nothing hits quite as brutally as sludge. Whilst the faster-paced wings of heavy music relish in all-out assaults, like going into the ring with a quick-swinging heavyweight champ, sludge is more akin to wading through a swamp whilst some unseen force keeps pushing your head under the surface. The genre explores life’s seedy underbelly, with a penchant for pure nihilism that’s second to absolutely fucking none. But the darker the music, the greater the catharsis – no wonder the depraved destruction wrought by sludge feels almost purifying in its filth.
After tackling funeral doom and black metal, we’re now turning our attention to the corrosive wrath of underground sludge. Here’s 26 sludge acts who deserve your attention.
Despite the overwhelming gloom of this London outfit’s distressing and antagonistic sound, there’s some intriguing experimentation to be found here by way of psychedelic flourishes and some dark but progressive melodies hiding underneath all the murk. The band’s debut album, Cityslicker, dropped in 2018 and is well worth a listen if you’ve got fifty minutes and two filth-loving ears to spare.
This Vancouver-based duo make use of a simple setup, delivering bewitching sludge that, in their own words, “draws influence from nature, instinct and a shared Virgo Moon.” Through simple evolutions and a flippant disregard for genre (labelling themselves “stoner/punk/sludge/we are not entirely sure”), Basic Instinct are a band doing exciting new things in the genre, with an inventive blend of lumbering grooves, blackened textures, ritualistic croons and otherworldly psych rock.
This South London trio lay claim to one of the heaviest Sabbath covers out there in the form of their most recent release, a rendition of ‘Electric Funeral’ dropped last August (seriously, as if that riff wasn’t already heavy-footed enough). But their originals are perhaps even more interesting, and come absolutely soaked in fuzz so filthy you’ll feel like you need a shower after even a cursory listen to their brilliantly brutal self-titled EP.
Operating somewhere between the bleak realm of sludge and the grotesque realm of death-doom, this Oakland ensemble craft music that draws from the most depraved aspects of both, the resulting sound feeling like an expression of despair and anguish but also one of malevolent hatred at pretty much anyone and everything. Latest record We Made What God Could Not oozes onwards like a river of coagulating blood, the riffs bleeding forth as sinister keys add to the imposing atmosphere. When the band break into pacier sections, it’s done with all the grace of a shark attack – as the listener, all you’ll want to do is scramble to safety.
A screeching pang of feedback, a muddy fuzz-drenched riff, a tsunami of pounding percussion – the intro to this French outfit’s latest release, the ten-and-a-half-minute bruiser ‘Sanguinarium’, wastes absolutely no time in diving headfirst into guttural sludge of the grimiest variety. The band are still in their relative infancy, and last we heard a debut album was due to be recorded sometime this year. We’re unsure, given the pandemic, when that record will see the light of day, but we can say with confidence that it’ll be worth hearing when it does.
With a brand new album released just last month (which quickly found its way onto Bandcamp’s “New and Notable” section), Seattle project Adzes boasts one of the most unique sounds on this list, with an original amalgamation of unsettling noise rock, expansive post-metal and, first and foremost, atmospheric sludge. The thunderous bass and massive percussion, all orchestrated by sole member Forest Bohrer, come together with the snarling feedback-drenched guitar to explore the darkest aspects of our planet, from political strife to encroaching climate catastrophe.
As relative newcomers, Sacramento doomers Occlith only recently released their expansive debut at the beginning of May, but it won’t be long before they’re a well-known name in the genre. The band’s ultra-slow sludge is vaguely reminiscent of the atmospheric realms of funeral doom, something that gives their music an ancient, ritualistic aura without ever hitting the breaks enough to lose momentum. Gates, Doorways, And Endings is a moody record with a well-executed blend of mournful melodies and weighty riffs. Give it a listen.
Combining weighty riffs with mournful leads and spacious atmospheres, Throwing Bricks’ strain of sludge differs from that of their peers. Not only does it make use of cathartic blasts in the vein of late-’90s screamo, but there’s an oddly graceful element to their music, which is as poignant as it is dark and dreary. Sludge is known for wallowing in misery, but Throwing Bricks’ new album, What Will Be Lost, feels closer to the emotive expressions of post-hardcore than the tar-black abyss from which sludge’s lifeless corpse usually trudges forth into existence.
Describing what they do as “abysmal horror doom”, VoidOath clearly pride themselves on the malicious, cavernous nature of their intense sludge. The Costa Rican outfit are propelled by vocals that seem to emanate up from some infernal abyss, whilst the accompanying music refuses to break out of its laborious tempo. Sludge seldom gets much heavier or more taxing than this, and it’s to the band’s credit that they’re able to create such stiflingly intense tracks on what is only their debut release, Illumination Through Necromancy. Big potential here.
This Dutch outfit’s 2018 debut EP hinted at big things to come, and recent follow-up Endling delivers on that promise. The three lengthy songs that comprise the release are certainly capable of dragging the listener through the murk, but they’re also subtly innovative, with dynamic shifts in tempo and gentle but effective synths. All of this serves to bolster the towering atmosphere of the band’s all-encompassing sludge, which is reminiscent of post-rock despite offering little in the way of respite.
“Slowerviolence” is the term concocted by this Rhode Island project to describe their own particular strain of musical extremity – you can kind of see what they mean. It’s easy to envisage their riffs at faster tempos, but there’s something intensely satisfying about the way the band seem to gear up for a period of frenzied bedlam before turning your expectations on their head and delivering delectably slow and filthy grooves instead. The band seemingly have a lot of fun with their cosmic, Marvel Comics-inspired worldbuilding too, and it shows.
Sludge often prides itself on its lumbering composition, but the new EP from Boston duo Greylock showcases something a little different from the norm, with a distressing strain of sludge driven by a sense of urgency. There’s a frantic, panicked feel to the way these songs aggressively lurch forward, refusing to offer even a moment’s respite. Even the production is unsettlingly muddy, never relying on the sort of weighty fuzz favoured by most in the genre which, whilst proven in its field, is still faintly comforting if only in its familiarity. Closer ‘Crisis Rejection’ is a truly mesmerising piece of filth, dragging the listener through the gutter without remorse.
When this Californian band really get going, they rival the intensity of sludge behemoths like Primitive Man and The Body, crafting music of the darkest and heaviest calibre that simply refuses to let up. The band had been relatively quiet for some time before their split with Body Void earlier this year, but in the time they’ve been away their music has lost none of its potency. Their sound is ruthlessly bleak, trudging forwards with utter contempt for everything in sight. The band have also just remastered and re-released their debut, MMXIV, and it’s amongst the heaviest things we’ve ever heard.
At The Graves
A one-man project from Ben Price (Elagabalus, Foehammer, Textile, ex-Revolta, ex-Xozo), At The Graves delivers sludge with an unsettling knack for spacious tracks driven by discordant guitars and grating harsh noise flourishes. The atmospheric magnitude of the project’s music is truly captivating in the most fearful sense, making you feel isolated before the heaviest aspects can kick in and deliver the hammer blows. Listening to new EP Pain After Pain feels akin to being locked in a pitch-black basement with some unspecified presence lurking, biding its time to strike.
Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean
With a proclivity for album names as exhausting as their music, Massachusetts outfit Chained To The Bottom Of The Ocean craft some of the most crushing sludge currently in circulation. Latest EP Tell Me What You See Vanishing And I Will Tell You Who You Are kicks off with a stifling bleak cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘I Will Possess Your Heart’, trading the original’s airy allure for seething shrieks and lumbering herculean riffs. The band’s secret weapon are their utterly corrosive vocals, which sit menacingly atop asphyxiating waves of extremity that stagger forwards with murderous intent as pangs of feedback pierce across the backdrop. We can’t wait to see what this mysterious quartet put out next.
Where sludge often thrives off its ability to pummel relentlessly, Grogus’ tunes are more expansive, utilising a greater array of tools, from blackened screams and death-doom stomps to noise/drone passages and the occasional favouring of hardcore elements over doom. The Minneapolis trio’s take on the genre leaves monotony at the door, instead favouring shifting time signatures and proggy riffs, with ambient textures also playing a key role throughout. Find out more about them in this interview.
It’d be a crime to label Witching simply as “sludge”, as there’s much more to the band’s chaotic concoctions than that, but the imposing weight of sludge weighs heavily over their delightfully macabre music. In fact, the way the band drifts between genres is what makes their music so frightfully alluring, with touches of blackened extremity occasionally dragging things into hellish realms, whilst the flourishes of post-rock-esque atmospherics lend their sound a grander aura. Be sure to check out the band’s new album Vernal, which dropped on June 5th.
A new project featuring Willow Ryan (Body Void, Atone) and Jacob Lee (Keeper, Elder Devil), Hellish Form cite Monarch, Corrupted and John Carpenter as influences up front. These disparate inspirations go some way to explaining the band’s sound, a blend of Body Void’s sludge intensity and more adventurous experiments with drone, noise and cinematic atmospherics. Newly released debut MMXX comprises just two songs but stretches to almost forty minutes in length, each song taking its time to build slowly before delivering the crushing blow.
These sci-fi storytellers have managed to turn beekeeping suits and some budget fairy lights into futuristic stagewear that’s truly menacing, especially once the stage in question is bathed in darkness. Their debut album Planet Loss is just as imposing as their ruthless live show, too, with a progressive attitude to sludge that sees their sound straddle noise, grind, prog and more throughout the album’s runtime. A must-hear name of the modern sludge scene, even if we’re a tad bias here.
With a strain of sludge that’s entirely their own, Bristol’s Throth combine dissonant and confrontational riffs with the sort of languid vocals that might be more suited to a psychedelically-inclined stoner rock band, and as a result produce some of the most alluring and unsettling music we’ve ever come across. 2016 release Heolstor is perhaps the most impressive instalment in their collection, boasting three tracks of experimental, noisy sludgegaze that captivate and bludgeon in equal measure. Keep an eye on this lot.
One of the UK’s most enticing propositions, Aerosol Jesus offer up bruising sludge reminiscent of Admiral Angry, but with a stark and ruthless catharsis that’s almost uncomfortably overwhelming when stacked up alongside the brutally honest lyrics and passionate delivery of frontman Oli Melville. We made the decision to release their debut EP Failure on our own Astral Noize Records, because it is quite frankly one of the best things we’ve heard from the UK scene in the past several years. The impending follow-up is sure to melt minds and break bones.
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Words: George Parr