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A Vile Fermentation of the Drug Honkey Sound - 85%

Satanic_Shoe, September 27th, 2012

Four years after the bizarre and sickening Death Dub, Drug Honkey returns with another hideous, drug-addled fiend of an album dubbed so pleasantly Ghost in the Fire. Here, the Chicago-based avant-doom outfit tones down the garish experimentation in favor of lead-heavy riffs and a bone-crushing atmosphere reminiscent of Electric Wizard or Bongripper. There’s even some USBM influence that sneaks its way in as a slathering of lurching tremolo riffs, including a guest appearance from Black Judd of Twilight and Nachtmystium fame. But by-and-by, Ghost in the Fire sees Drug Honkey sticking to a more standard sludge / doom sound, forgoing the rabid psychedelia from before in favor of something more…professional.

For one, the synths are meshed much more into the wall of instruments; no more stark contrast between grinding Godfleshian dirges and synthesized psychedelic throbs, or bringing the rest of the band to a screeching halt only to reveal the seething, crawling textures underneath. No; what we get instead is a much denser and overwhelming sound. Nothing so cavernous or open as Death Dub, but more like the walls are closing in on you, crushing you, and the synths are the only putrid air you have left to breath, slowly dwindling in supply. The drums, once ragged pots and pans, are full-on sledge-hammers to your knee-caps. You’re crippled and immobile and the guitar and bass are those very walls pressing in on you, sturdy and concrete, encompassing your insignificant person all around, no longer the rusted and corrugated tin slabs crawling with roaches and open-eye acid visuals; they are your slow and persistent demise. And of course Paul Gillis still wretches and bellows under his “signature” vocal processing, especially menacingly evident on tracks like “Heroin III”, “Five Years Up”, and the title track, reinforcing gross inhumanity, sounding like a mechanized Alan Dubin, or Scott Kelly crawling out of a k-hole.

While perhaps not quite as varied as its predecessor (listen to “Burundi (Reconstruct)” and tell me that isn’t fucking outlandish, even compared to the rest of Death Dub), Ghost in the Fire is still a challenging and tumultuous listen, and the variety that is here is much subtler, less jarring. The unexpected melodic touches spread throughout the album, like the ghastly lead in the opening track “Order of the Solar Temple”, and the overall stability, smoothness, and accessibility of the songwriting ironically make this easier on the ears in one respect, but hint at dark and foreboding Neurosis/Isis/post-metal clouds blooming on the horizon. Drug Honkey also seems to be drawing (as mentioned before) much more heavily on the American black metal scene. The album is littered with tremolo leads and black-doom atmospherics reminiscent of USBM vets Wolves in the Throne Room, Weakling, Xasthur, Twilight, etc., which seems less surprising considering Black Judd’s guest vocal appearance on “Weight of the World”. This album is dense and will certainly take you on a hell of a trip: “This Time I Won’t Hesitate” drowns you in ambience and whirl of psychotic vocals; “Dead Days” drones into the oblivion of an opiate nod; chaotic clatter on “Out of My Mind” has you on the edge of your seat waiting for a sweet end that arrives in a bludgeoning climax; loose, jazzy drumming on “Twitcher” (which may very well be the best track on here) offsets stuttering feedback drones; and finally, you succumb to “Saturate / Annihilate” and are trampled broken into the dirt.

Perhaps my only gripe with this album is that it sticks to the doom / sludge slow-burn a little too much, plodding and plodding away until it dissolves into the ether. And for one last Death Dub comparison, Gillis and co. should take a lesson from its predecessor and be sure to throw in those occasional speedy (I use this term lightly) moments, a la “The Devil Lasts Forever” and “Communion”, on future releases just to further remind us how unsettling they can be. Hell, maybe they should even try out some grind riffs and blast beats! Regardless, I look forward to what these guys have in store for us in the future as their sound certainly is progressing and maturing in interesting, forward-thinking ways. Drug Honkey is exactly that breath of fresh air that doom metal has needed, and their past two efforts are a testament to that.