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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sunday Sludge: Shroud Eater - "Dead Ends"

Believe it or not, I've got friends who farm for a living. No, they don't harvest human organs; they work the land, feed the livestock, and gather fresh eggs to sell when they get to town. One such friend was having trouble figuring out why his dairy cows hadn't been producing. Not only that, but why were they so fucking ornery? Turns out it only takes a little standing water and some faulty low-current wiring to slowly and continually electrocute your cows to the point of non-production. I guess I'd be pissed, too.

Speaking of low, steady electric currents, Miami's Shroud Eater are back with Dead Ends, their follow-up to 2011's masterful ThunderNoise. Buzzing relentlessly and crushing at every corner, this five-track bruiser showcases once-promising up-and-comers fully hitting their stride and evolving into stoner-sludge titans. Shroud Eater's savage genre-blending sound crawls from the pits and lurches toward summits, knocking flat every hut and lean-to they cross.

Take shelter in a soggy cave as Cannibals opens the album with primitive, apocalyptic screams and scurries.  Fireball riffs rain, dropping heavier with passing moments on this hooded-prophet signal of impending despair. Standing cocksure on its own legs, Cannibals also crafts an enticing introduction to Sudden Plague. The slow churn of thick doom is met with spit-rhythm pick-up, crafting a misty aura to complement Felipe Torres' pummels. When the pendulum slows, collected moss ferments for one final awesome push.

Stoner groove meanders along the slow molten passages of Lord of the Sword. The dual vocal of Jean Saiz and Janette Valentine is a sonic bully, disparaging the newly dead beneath an awesome veil of fuzz. Teeming with drone and swampy hiss, listeners enter a misty mountain nightmare of smoke and fear. Lord whirs with more juice than a toaster tea-bagging a bathtub, and a slow crawl toward perfection documents Shroud Eater's increasingly impressive songcraft.

There's not a grain of fluff on this record. Gradual swelling comes to a head via the hovering fuzz of Tempest, where the band hit not only their most effortless gait but also their most unctuous pinnacle.  Chains dragged behind a muddy swamp cruiser break for campfire reflections, but keep your senses piqued. That gnarly purr returns to numb your skin and bleed your head. Saiz's brilliantly-executed guitar realizations leave behind the track's foggy reprieves on what promises to be the year's finest stoner-sludge moment.

Front to back thickness is prescribed on The Star and The Serpent, a sinewy closer bred of crunches and shifts. The track knocks around and is better off for it, but each element is given its banner here. Torres lost his sticks, leaving him no choice but to thump with human femurs. Valentine's bass guides the track's thorax, meeting Death's bony index finger in a sea of echoes. The heavy is soon fully uncorked, flooding the barren plains with an endless barrage of massive riffs and tight licks. Call it the perfect closeout, sure. But this one track encapsulates everything that's incredible about this band.

With Dead Ends, Shroud Eater take their largest leap and land on both feet. Cavernous despair has never been so timely or tasty, and the chilling atmospheres parallel the stomp of nebulous doom. Though Dead Ends advances the band's themes, sounds, and moods, this album is light years beyond their previous foxtrots with excellence. Page Hamilton advised "carve your niche," and this band has done just that. There's no longer a place for "Shroud Eater sound like so-and-so." We'll soon be writing "So-and-so sound like Shroud Eater."

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