As we approach the holidays, let's not forget there are some who don't have much to smile about. Suicide rates spike in winter months, and perhaps Akron, Ohio's RUE fully understand what some of the world's loneliest, most despondent souls are experiencing. The full-length Thorns arrived on November 15th to highlight and soothe those feelings of hopelessness and suffering. As the album's awesome artwork would suggest, this sludge is as weathered and cracked as the wind-burned faces of alley-dwelling vagrants seeking scraps behind restaurants.
Thorns won't corner listeners with thickness and plod, though there's more than a lion's share of grimy sludge on this disc. The immediate crunch of Brown is balanced by a ribbon of spacey licks and choking despair. Jeff's vocals shift from toilet gurgle black metal to matter-of-fact Henry Rollins, remaining rabid and passionate throughout the track (and entire disc, for that matter). What sets apart RUE from their sludge contemporaries is their accessibility, with rhythms and grooves that are borderline anthemic on Brown and Strong Will Evolve (which somehow manages to exude confidence as a sludge storm backs us into a wall).
Rather than drowning audiences in quicksand, RUE administer their sludge in smaller doses. Sadaver is slow, cool, and deliberate with its mire. The lethargic stomp seems to enter its own realm of the beaten and dejected until the low fuzz succumbs to an angry demise. Faucher sets a bass rhythm, changes his mind, and is confident his bandmates will pick it up, slow it down, and do so with seemingly little effort.
That RUE's guitarist goes as "Burns" is only fitting. The stoner groove on For Thousands of Years is only as steady and warm as his guitar wants it to be. The hot buzz wears off when dark themes ("It only gets more painful") again creep in, but a desert cruise with this album wouldn't be too bad.
Pace quickly morphs on Pressures, a stoner-sludge romp that chokes on guitar fuzz. Dusty and determined, Faucher's low-end hitchhiker's thumb is met with Greg's drum blister to form the album's most pleasant surprise. Desert roll adopts death-metal vox on the trailing song, Choice. Intermittent guitar pauses, scorches, and slows down to march toward death rattle.
Take into account all the dried-up stoner dirge held in Thorns, it's hard to envision the album being successfully parenthesized by two Terry Reid-esque guitar sleepers. Agonizingly beautiful and pensive, the leading title track and it's closing reprise are simplified and haunting, with the latter employing backmasking and a sample that appears to encompass all that a lifespan holds. Reality sets in sooner than we'd like and the innocence of childhood is countered by the acceptance of eternal sleep. This is one that'll stick with you.
RUE fail to sugarcoat things. It's been eight years since the band's last LP, and those years must have been perilous. Luckily for us, RUE funnel their grief into thirteen divergent and indulgent clouds of breathtaking grime. Punctuated by a few moments of clarity, the whole of these parts is still grim and honest, pummeling senses with an organized attack that hits every nerve from every angle. Thorns hits your jaw with the butt of a rifle and drags you into an unmarked car. You'll welcome with open arms a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome.
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