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The Junkie's Stagger - 72%

psychoticnicholai, June 30th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Allied Recordings

Buzzoven's debut is noticeably different than the rest of their output since it's the most "punk" out of all of them. This band was young and intoxicated with plenty of room out there to distill that dope-sickened rage into some really killer metal. While not as dark, as intense, as heavy, as savage, or as mean, To a Frown has a similar aura of misery and gruffness that made them who they are. It isn't the embodiment of barbaric, drug-fueled, redneck insanity that later albums would try for, but it is a satisfying ride of dirty sludge metal that shows more of the genre's punk roots. This also explains Buzzoven's faster tempos compared to other major sludge bands since they held onto that sound more closely than say Grief or Eyehategod.

Every song begins with a movie sample, usually of something morbid, angry, or deranged, such as samples of Private Pyle snapping from Full Metal Jacket, the Violence Speech from Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, or the sounds of riots to set the dour mood of the song up. Many songs don't hold close to the slowness typical of sludge, but instead fast, punkish tempos and appropriately bass-loaded and dirty riffs make for some good rushes of fury like on "To a Frown", "Forget It", and "Frayed". Kirk Fisher's vocals are cleaner than on later albums, but it's hard to actually call them "clean" since it mostly consists of a rasp that's 1 part anger and 3 parts anguish, adding to the filthy sneer of To a Frown. The sound of the guitars is messed up in a good way, sure the lead guitar is a little weak, but it makes up for it since most of the riffs are handled easily by the bass which overpowers the other guitars without sacrificing crunch. This isn't an overload of bass that leaves this feeling wet and flat, this keeps the proverbial musical roadkill nice and crisp. Still, this is a simple album with simple thrills and a lot of that comes from plunging riffs that churn and charge with a good bit of static and slow bits to keep the tension going. Keep in mind, a lot of this album is simple due to a lot of it being blind, addled rage. Also, a lot of people coming to this album won’t get slammed as hard as on Sore or At a Loss. It’s plenty aggressive and has some solid songs, but those other Buzzoven albums blow this one out of the water.

While this may not be the most intense of Buzzoven’s albums and is somewhat front-loaded when it comes to quality songs, it still carries the band’s perma-pissed ethos decently in a more punk form. To a Frown is Buzzoven getting into form and gearing up to wreak havoc. Think of it as morphine before you move on towards heroin. That works as an appropriate analogy for where this band would go on their later releases (and in their behavior). It’s something for people looking for where the raging monsters on later albums came from. Before they were rabid backwoods bloodthirsty maniacs, Buzzoven were dirt-caked punks loaded with misery and ready to just riff. If you want to see where sludge linked up with hardcore in the early days, this is a grimy, oft forgotten early album worth looking at.