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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Sludge: Vulture - "Oblivious To Ruin"

For all the sooty, smokestack nose-thumbing Pittsburgh has been thrown since 1758, the city has lately seen huge strides in technology and healthcare. The shift hasn't gone unnoticed amongst politicians or travelers, either. But somewhere in-between "Hell with the lid off" and "Roboburgh," Pittsburgh sludge-slingers Vulture failed to go with the grain as things steadily improved.

"Steel-City Sludge" doesn't begin to define the enormous mire of Vulture's contribution to metal. As they honed their craft and sharpened their mud-caked sticks, nobody bothered to tell them Pittsburgh had cleaned up. The band's upcoming release, Oblivious to Ruin, is bathed in enough agonizing filth to frighten the unsuspecting and entice the seasoned. Spanning 40 minutes broken into seven tracks, the album is a bruised, buzzing clinic on properly constructing a sludge recording. Rule number one: if it ain't painful, it ain't shit.

For starters, the band utilizes a soundbite from The Exorcist III to outline all the horrible elements the album promises to unleash: death, disease, injustice, inhumanity, torture... You get the idea. This Beautiful Infection is as scathing and unsettling as any horror film, rolling in pained howls, crunchy sludge assaults, and a consistent, vomitous churning. The fuzz-reverb douses listeners in napalm as the doom drone signals an acceptance of fate. The rhythm is low and despondent, growing slower and deeper as these seven minutes prick your skin.

Keeping spurs from jingling and jangling, the buzzing blues of the title track is short-lived. We march slowly, drenched, until a Rwake-ferocity drops. Kelly Gabany's skins do all they can to dig their heels into the muddy tempo, but there's no keeping the ashes from your mouth. Sounds go from muddy to crisp and blackened by the track's midpoint, and the angered stomp through a sweaty, acidic swamp is actually a breath of fresh air.

Dead Sea opens quickly on the guitar tandem of Garrett Twardesky and Gene Fikhman, spitting licks no less effectively than Justin Erb's shredded vocal pleas. The dynamic is gorgeous and horrific, and the shifts of rhythms (from boiling to gasping to thumping to blazing) will rub your skin raw. Vulture do know how to hit the brakes when the situation calls for it, but the treehouse confessions are never safe from the evil in the bushes. You can't help but know the sonic assault's gonna return. But when?

The album perpetuates themes of hopelessness and fear, all of which is clouded under gear-grinding guitars and a doom cadence. The wall of discontent is most evident on Long I Crawl, with chilling vocals seemingly reaching into nothing. The exhausting lifts and drops are of seismic proportions, while the blood just never seems to coagulate. On Coming Storm, increased pacing somehow allows for each element to separate and establish its own prominence. That scathing, slicing intermittence of tempos enters a foggy cloud of locusts, only to turn itself inside out as guitars move out of control. The chainsaw denouement perfectly transitions into Bedridden, a steady, heady lumber through a beaten daze. Justin Bach's punishing hollowness chugs through everything before the meat-grind gives way to a familiar, animalistic trot.

Ever ridden in a truck with a hillbilly who loves getting dirty, hates shaving, and can't operate a stick shift? Apathetic Life has that back-and-forth gear shift that'll wear you out. Vulture saved the album's best and most abrasive track as its bookend. The painfully heavy retreat into a foxhole only foreshadows a re-emergence, rife with an extra dose of piss and vinegar. These guitars take their own trip, zone out, warble. Scraping its teeth on bone fragments that've been long picked over, this song could only be the closer. You ready for a drink yet?

From start to finish, Oblivious To Ruin is relentless in its size and its anguish. Drums become barrels, sticks become tree trunks, guitars become eternal torches. Each track spends every breath grasping at something concrete, only to stumble to its knees. THIS is where Vulture excel. If this band had the slightest bit of hope, they may not sound so brutal, so dirty, or so awesome. Sure, Pittsburgh's cleaned up. But every city has trenches. On Oblivious to Ruin, Vulture are happy to bathe in them.

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