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Slomatics > Canyons > Reviews
Slomatics - Canyons

Promises a lot with a new direction but ends up bogged down in bombast - 80%

NausikaDalazBlindaz, September 23rd, 2019

Slow their music may be ... but once the Slomatics get going, they just don't stop ... "Canyons" is the band's sixth album in a 15-year career, and my first impression on hearing this album for the first time is that something has definitely changed in the music: vocalist / drummer Marty is now singing more than shouting and his voice seems clearer and cleaner than what I remember. While it's still a heavy sludge-doom album, "Canyons" is less bludgeoning than previous full-length recordings, as though the band might be softening its approach and trippy psychedelia and Gothic elements are popping up in songs.

Opening track "Gears of Despair" is business-as-usual with glacially paced rhythms and riffs, a monstrous subterranean grinding bass sound, and Marty singing near the top of his vocal range in the far distance ... but this time key changes introduce a Gothic element that is new to the band's sonic palette and ghostly choirs now sigh in the background. The song plods steadily and relentlessly to its climax. Likewise "Cosmic Guilt" is typically straightforward Slomatics trundle, at least until most of the lyrics are out of the way and a brief instrumental passage allows ambient electronic effects to take over and launch the music into another space-time dimension. A short all-instrumental piece of epic psychedelic doom / space opera rock offers a glimpse at the Slomatics doing their most bombastic and bruising.

"Telemachus, My Son" - the title is a reference to ancient Greek poet Homer's The Odyssey - is a gargantuan chugging song of easy-going melodic doom / stoner / space rock with spacey atmospheric effects and dark acoustic instrumental embellishments. While this is one of the longer songs on the album, it never feels long at all - there is a fair amount happening here with the changing riffs, rhythms and beats, the reverb on the singing adds an otherworldly depth, and keyboards, while used very sparingly, enhance the exoplanetary feel. "Beyond the Canopy" almost seems about to collapse through its playing time, with huge spaces in the music through which anything and everything becomes possible, and darkly acoustic guitar melody accompanied by discreet space ambient effects in one such space proves this. Spaceships soon start landing and taking off with hostages as the impassive music ploughs its way through alien dimensions.

The last three tracks form a set all their own and have a lighter sound. "Arms of the Sun" is another short all-instrumental piece, done entirely on keyboards, leading into "Mind Fortresses on Theia". This is not quite so heavy as previous tracks and more emphasis is placed on Marty's singing, but for all its epic majesty the song seems to flounder and never quite reaches a climax or resolution. The synthesiser work on this song replicates the strings section of an orchestra and seems out of place on an album with strong science fiction themes. The final track returns to the band's familiar sludge-doom style, this time with treated Sabbath-style vocals. Again though, the song wanders through orchestral synth territory and hovering UFO ambience, and just putters out.

What a shame ... "Canyons" promised so much with tantalising suggestions of a new direction, melding humongous miasma slug sludge doom with space ambient psychedelia, only to get bogged down in its ambitions and bombast. Some tracks like the earlier "Gears of Despair" and "Telemachus, My Son" are standouts in getting the balance right with massively heavy grinding doom, keyboard accompaniment and space ambience / psychedelia elements. On other tracks though, problems in song composition and experimenting with song structures come to the fore. Even with its faults, "Canyons" can still boast moments of Slomatics sludge greatness ... just not all the way through as fans might have come to expect.

Nimbus arrays. - 78%

GrizzlyButts, June 26th, 2019
Written based on this version: 2019, CD, Black Bow Records

In building a genealogical gauge of sub-genre parentage and influential heavy rock lineage beyond the millennium an ovular, slightly blurred Venn diagram begins to form between the branches most closely shared by doom metal and stoner rock. Without any serious acknowledgement of sludge’s nearby but raw-dogged influences and serious precursor status the marriage of California-born stoner music style, attitude and presentation within modernized hard rock circles across the globe would quickly catch the ears of the cholecalciferol deficient ‘new order’ of stoner-adjacent doom metal in the UK. Where Sleep and Electric Wizard would eventually stake their presence on their most classic stoner/doom metal albums that’d serve as a machine-template, a portal of exemplar evolution a la Arthur C. Clarke‘s Monoliths in his Space Odyssey series for the new face of the genre from that point. Revisionist as it might seem on paper the limited and slightly inbred genealogy in question is massively evident in terms of sonic evolution; The guitar tones picked, the modus of songwriting employed, the imagery and the greater species of stoner doom that excites the greatest numbers of folks worldwide is ultimately -still- a permutation of the heralded renders of ‘Dopethrone’ and, arguably, ‘Dopesmoker’. If you aren’t at least comfortable with the content and production techniques of these two albums you’ve likely missed out on hundreds if not thousands of records released in the ~two decades since. Belfast sludge/doom metal band Slomatics started kicking their own can down the road back in 2004, arguably on the cutting edge of sludge’s extreme downtuned sonic excess as it bled heavy and permanently into stoner/doom metal DNA. The trio have persisted with non-stop activity for the last fifteen years having been on a roll since at least 2012 beyond their breakthrough split record with Conan in 2011. Now this thier sixth full-length, ‘Canyons’, comes slow and searching towards new heights in 2019, an old faithful modus and an easy demeanor in hand.

Though I own the previous two records I’d no clue that they were the latter two thirds of a trilogy of sorts and Slomatics remark today that ‘Canyons’ is a proverbial point of freshness, a new bout of freedom from the source material as it were. I felt something completely unrelated to their intentions, a sort of cloudy sorrow buzzing about the mind throughout, but the newly adventurous approach wasn’t stymied by this. I was a few minutes into “Cosmic Guilt” when I’d gotten two distinct references at once, first a punchy sludge/doom rock buzz typically reserved for Torche (or, Floor even) and the second a lumbering jerk of stoner metal melody a la late 90’s/early 2000’s Cathedral. Something old and something new at once, a set of ideas still very much within Slomatics wheelhouse just bigger and more dramatic. The momentum continues strongly through “Telemachus My Son” and I’d say this represents the most compelling pair of songs the band have written since ‘Estron’ in 2014. Beyond those two pieces and the brilliant 9+ minute opener “Gears of Despair” I’m not sure any of the material on ‘Canyons’ holds up, much of it is redundant or ‘filler’ interludes. The one exception on Side B is absolutely “Mind Fortresses on Theia”, the one unanimous standout piece that brings back some of the subtle keyboards and a spray of psych-sludge in the second half. I won’t say the tracklist is all golden but more than half of the non-interlude songs make up for the less interesting points along the way.

At no point during my time with ‘Canyons’ did I feel anything particularly profound reaching out and cracking through my skull. There were points of gorgeous yearning, some impressively shaped progressions, and smooth-but-dramatic vocal performances but nothing that had me sagging in my chair drooling onto the carpet as I had when I’d first discovered ‘Estron’. A mildly-good and level feeling isn’t such a crime in the context of stoner/doom and sludge variants though, I did find myself hoping for something even more adventurous around the corner than the generally similar pace and plodding affect throughout. It is all very regular but solid all the same so, there is something to be said for a consistent and professional record that hits all of the right points within a well established doom sub-genre. It is, however, inescapably a ‘genre’ record from a band hitting upon a gorgeous bout of comfort zone and for that reason I can see the lasting appeal of this sixth Slomatics record. It is classic Slomatics and probably the finest mix, set of hooks, and vocal performance of theirs to date. On my end as the listener who knows their discography fairly well, ‘Canyons’ might replace the last record of theirs in my collection but it probably won’t be something I’m drawn back to unless the cover art is on display. Highly recommended, solely for the ratio of great moments to merely average ones. For preview I’d suggest “Mind Fortresses on Theia” to start as it is a big and pleasantly dynamic listen and then from there carry that thread back to Side A with “Telemachus My Son” and you should have a pretty good idea of how you’ll gel with the rest of the material on ‘Canyons’.