Friday, March 11, 2011
Flashback Friday - Tungsten
By now, we’re all familiar with the late 80’s/early 90’s New Orleans metal scene that would eventually spawn the term “sludge”. Due in part to the slow as molasses tempos that were being incorporated into their sound as well as the swampy environs from which they called home, the term seemed an apt description for bands like Crowbar, Eyehategod and Acid Bath who are all considered to be pioneers of the genre. Unfortunately, when a music scene blows up, there are always a few stragglers that get left behind by no fault of their own. These bands are often tragically forgotten and forever under appreciated (just ask Mudhoney up in Seattle) and in New Orleans, Tungsten was one of those bands.
Hailing from Chalmette, Louisiana just outside The Big Easy, the band got their start in 1985 when Mark Talamo (drums) and Al Hodge (guitar/vocals) joined together to make music under the moniker SAM SNOT. Other than a few demos however, this version of the band wouldn’t get very far and by 1990 they would change their name to Tungsten…taken from an actual "heavy metal" on the periodic chart of the elements. Talamo, who split time as a sound engineer, was fortunate enough to work with Down on some of their 1992 demos for their Nola album and Crowbar on their classic self-titled sophomore release (which happened to be produced by Philip Anselmo).
These industry connections eventually led Tungsten to ink a deal with fledgling Chicago metal label Pavement Music who released their debut album 183.85 (the atomic weight of tungsten…of course) in 1993. The album was everything that came to define the sludge sub-genre with its ultra distorted, down tuned guitars, abrasive vocals and depressing lyrical content. Not long after the album's release, Mark and Al, who until then had remained a two piece, decided to bring in Steve Talamo (Mark's brother) to play both bass and guitar, a move that added another level of depth to the band's already heavy sound.
Unfortunately by 1994, the sludge popularity train had already begun to leave the station and despite having a crushingly heavy sound that easily matched that of their peers, Tungsten weren't onboard. The band's brief stint with Pavement Music didn't go further than their debut album, leaving them without a home until Swedish label Megarock Records stepped in and released their second album 74 LXXIV (another play on the band's name, this one the element's atomic number) in 1995. This album saw the band forging on with their sludgy NOLA sound and despite being virtually ignored State-side, it was very well received in Europe…particularly Holland.
It's no surprise then that when it came time to record album number three, Tungsten signed with Dutch label Lighttown Records. The result was the 1997 album The Survival Kit which saw the band take an interesting stylistic turn by adding keyboards to the mix, creating a sort of Type O Negative meets Crowbar dynamic. Al Hodge was quoted as saying The Survival Kit was "when we really started to get our sound, which was a mix of the NOLA stuff and the European scene". Despite the band's enthusiasm for their new sound and the success they'd found across the pond, Tungsten wouldn't be heard from again for six years.
By that time, the internet had completely changed the way fans accessed music as Napster and other file sharing sites had already begun to revolutionize the music industry. In a bold move counter to many of their peers, Tungsten embraced music downloading and in 2003 self released their fourth album The Abuse via download from their website. The album saw another stylistic shift for the band as it was much less abrasive, particularly in the vocal department and trended towards more of a "hard rock" sound than the sludge for which they'd become known. In addition to offering the new album for download, Tungsten also offered their entire back catalogue, which by that time was primarily out of print from the indie labels that had originally released the albums.
Tungsten would be heard from one last time in 2005 with the release of their fifth and final album, the introspective If Death Doesn't Change You…Nothing Will. The record is essentially Al Hodge pouring out the pain and sadness of losing both his father and one of his closest friends within the course of a year. Like it's predecessor, it was self released by the band's own label Tungsten Music Records and was available for download from their website.
Not long after the release of If Death Doesn't Change You…, Hurricane Katrina pummeled New Orleans and the surrounding area. Both Al Hodge and Mark Talamo lost everything (Steve's home was fortunately spared). In the aftermath, Tungsten decided to call it a day. Al relocated to Texas and as recently as 2009, could be heard in Tandapa, an industrial metal collaboration with Richard Wilson of the Swedish band Floodhorse. Mark and Steve still reside in Louisiana, but have been fairly quiet on the music front. Unfortunately, the fact that Tungsten's five albums were all released by independent labels (or by the band members themselves) means they're all long out of print. Regardless, all it takes is a little digging to uncover these types of rare gems. I promise it's well worth the effort. Happy Flashback Friday everyone!