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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday Sludge: Bädr Vogu - "Exitium"

Apparently the left arm of sludge metal extends far beyond the outer limits of Louisiana's bayous and Georgia's swamps. Credit the deep South for shaping many of the earliest, more influential sludge bands, sure (Melvins notwithstanding). But take a poke through other corners of the continental states and you'll be amazed at what festers beneath the surface. Today's Sunday Sludge highlights California's Bädr Vogu, self-described as "West Oakland Blues Crust." Their 2011 full-length debut, Exitium, is about as crusty as sludge can get without caking shut entirely.

With its heels dug firmly into broken soil and its deepest roots cemented distantly (though relevantly) in the blues of another time, Exitium certainly falls under a different moon than, say, Robert Johnson or Sleepy John Estes. "Crust" must be the operative term here, and Bädr Vogu glaze these six tracks with enough filth and snarl to harden even the softest, most milquetoast of sludge fans.

The sharp shrill of Wolves In The Ruins guides a snail's drone into the album's true rumble character. Guitars resonate and bass crunches, with the introductory black shroud dissipating as the rhythm grinds its snout into the earth. Rob's bass is absolutely vile, remaining low and loose throughout the entire track (and essentially the entire album). Sean's toilet-growl vocal proves no less effective than that of George Fisher or John Tardy, though there's parity where he reaches out with a howl. This opener stays true to its promise of fuzzy filth and quickly gets listeners dirty.

Almost crust-punk is Soliloquy of Belligerence, faster in tempo and more traditional in rhythm than its lead-in. Sean's vocals remain perfectly disheartening, and the choppy, grinding plateau is greeted by a death march into a boiling pond of reverb. The tandem of Joe and Bryce on guitar, added to Justin's kit-pummeling, effectively split the track in half. The rhythm grows back as Rob's bass hums from the mud. The sounds have come full circle, as the shifting tempos cease with a high-pitched fadeout. You're gonna need that towel.

Sound clips can sometimes detract from an album's atmosphere, coming off as inane or extraneous. Nomad's hobo-tao, however, seems a perfect companion to the middle finger of the track's blues skeleton. The entire song seems to be sniffing for scraps, as intermittent patches of crusty punk build toward total chaos. The song manages to implode into itself, but not before embracing the self-destruction.

If you figured a change of pace was in order, you're more perceptive than me. The lonely guitar haunt of Extinguished is as creepy as anything you'd find in a dusty attic, while the saunter of Rob's bass adds another layer of eerie. As Justin's drums set the stride, a dirty blanket of sludge envelopes the doom tempo. Sean's vocals are an instrument all their own as plates shift, the ground underneath begins to break, and tempos enter a sort of fartlek sprint-and-crawl. Riding the hunched back of Joe's and Bryce's guitar virtuosity, this long, drawn-out bout with loneliness holds as much intrigue as many entire albums.

Every track on the album manages to swing over the bar, ending up where it started with an added dizziness. Slumlord Blues is the album's *ahem* blues-iest track, back-dropped by a curtain of sludge. More accessible than the rest of the album but no less violent, this dirty bounce moves to full doom, with vocals shouted rather than grumbled. Guitars buzz, drums obliterate, and the fury carries over into the album's final coup, Barons of Filth. Beginning with a hollow, distant thump, the sludge arrives quickly and rhythms shift unexpectedly. Bädr Vogu find their instrumental harmony best on this track, Exitium's strongest. Every member is given marquee status here. The band drags us into the bayou and leaves us for dead before shifting to stoner sludge. Guitars turn on the headlights, but tempos drag us behind a moving car. That slow tempo eventually returns, and splintered logs seem the only appropriate vessel.

I'm not terribly familiar with blues pioneers, and I'm certainly no bay area native. I can't even begin to imagine where Bädr Vogu draw inspiration (maybe I should leave it alone), but the result is a debut album that'll knock you on your ass. While the blues i DO know managed to mask displeasure with acceptance and sarcasm, this "crust blues" doesn't mask a damn thing. Sludge is characteristically pessimistic, occasionally hopeless. But Bädr Vogu spin that hopelessness into a meltdown of accomplished sludge normally reserved for more seasoned artists. It's impossible to believe this is a debut, and it's even more impossible to believe Bädr Vogu have only existed since 2009.

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