Callus are one of those bands who’ve never quite captured their live prowess in the studio, until now. Over the last eight years the trio has built a loyal local following in their heartland of Lancashire, making new friends further afield with electric performances at Bloodstock, Hammerfest and Mammothfest. Their mangling of thrash, punk, doom and sludge has marked them apart from other pub-playing wannabes, with the band making waves the good old-fashioned way: learning their craft and honing their songwriting playing all the dives, giving them a sharpness of focus, which can only be achieved through sheer slog and hard work.
Finally the effort is paying off, and A Breath Of Flesh Air is exactly what it says on the tin. While 2017’s debut EP Through Blood, Sweat, Piss and Pain and 2019’s full-length Hogpocalypse amply displayed their vibrant, youthful vim and vigour, both of them lacked the spark of those incendiary live shows: the songs were functional, the production a touch flat. Come 2021 and this new album artfully displays what happens when big fat riffs, anthemic melodies and sheer enthusiasm are combined with a capable recording engineer and a bag of solid tunes. Everything is better: the songwriting, the performances, and especially the widescreen sound – recorded, mixed and mastered to perfection by Chris Fielding at Foel Studio in Wales.
Sonically, A Breath of Flesh Air is massive. Louis Clarke’s guitars crunch, grind and soar whilst Sam Kelly’s drums launch themselves out of the speakers, with Ben Wormwell’s low end bass rumble anchoring the songs beautifully. There’s less thrash this time, much more groove and swagger. Opener ‘Molar Crown’ encapsulates all of this: a top-down highway cruiser, built around a one-note verse before opening up into a half-time middle section of such wonder even Boss Keloid would be proud to call it their own.
The album is full of surprises. ‘Ka Tet’ is unlike anything Callus have done before, a proper poppish driving anthem with three-part harmonies floating over the sonic mélange the trio boils up underneath. ‘Sorrow’s Bane’ opens with a massive Crowbar-esque sludge riff before morphing into a soaring Celtic jig. ‘Cinderstella’ steals from Metallica with its deft acoustic opening, and then there’s ‘Fatberg’, a 10-minute-long doom epic built around a shuffle rhythm with an eerie feeling of the night about it. When it breaks down four minutes in, with Clarke pulling a huge solo off his fretboard before loping into a goosebumps-inducing, monstrously cantering groove, it’s a truly life-affirming moment. When the song starts to fade out you just want it to carry on, forever.
A Breath Of Flesh Air isn’t perfect (‘Toadfish’, the instrumental, is filler, and the silly song titles wear thin three albums in), but you’d need a heart of stone not to get carried along by the sheer exuberance of it all. You can hear the fun they’re having, and it’s infectious. Combine all that with a stunning album cover by Ryan Hancock, a willingness to explore outside their musical comfort zone, and a maturity in their songwriting which was maybe lacking before, and you’ve got a thoroughly commercial, modern and wonderfully engaging record which does, finally, put Callus firmly on the map. On this evidence, the Lancastrians are going places. An admirable and highly entertaining piece of work. Bravo!
A Breath of Flesh Air is out on October 29th via Trepanation Recordings and can be ordered here.
Words: Andrew Field