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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Sludge: Tort

Sludge normally struggles with finding a peaceful, ambient drone amongst the choppy repitition and gutteral choke of bludgeoned, groove-laden misanthropy. To mark a sludge act as atmospheric can seem to negate the parallels and alienate listeners, while noting dirge-laden traits may assign bands to pigeonhole-slots they'd rather avoid. You can't risk sounding like Eyehategod on every track, you can't ride the fence, and you can't craft the same song eleven times and call it an album.

Enter Barcelona's Tort, appropriately self-described as "Old school Doom metal mixed with Sludge and Thrash." The band's self-titled debut contains little in terms of derivation, caution, or monotony. Balancing the gloom of doom with more than a dash of thrash, these four Spaniards have progressed beyond the grips of their pedigree (members have played in Lords of Bukkake, Warchetype, Cuzo, Cuerno, Morbid Flesh...) to create an album sure to please sludge-slingers, thrash enthusiasts, and endorsers of any imminent hostile ambient takeover.

The serene sea-breeze accompanying Vallaha's Spanish introduction clip may be slightly misleading, as there's no parallel struck between an old man's wisdom and a fire-setting grind. The repetitive, droning sludge/doom plugs are nothing short of hazed, choppy bliss. Javi's vocal is seasoned and complacent as he documents the barbaric conquests of a battle's soiled victor. The breaks in thrash are brief, though churning rhythms serve to gnaw at exposed organs amongst the bubbling sludge assertion that "Vallaha is waiting for you."

Let's touch on the disc's aforementioned thrash, brilliantly evidenced on tracks like Cannibals of Marrat and Fire Rose Vampira. Don't let the low bass of Cannibals' introduction lead you. The growl and slow sludge tempo are so enticing, yes. That simmered grind marrying the boiling, diabolic vocal is just slow enough to dismiss the skin-lashing rhythmic shifts. And speaking of shifts, how the fuck can they ever work this well? The muddled plod, the lumbering riffs... and those intermittent skins. You hardly notice the gutteral gurgle skimming the dirge, do you? Well, that thrash comes back with swollen fists; straight-up old-school metal punishment in the form of pummeling drums and licks leaves your skin rubbed raw. Javi's final, pained bark is enough to keep your hairs on end, but Sancho Luna's guitar solos don't need his help.

Enough fuckin' around, Tort decided. Let Sancho's guitar shred. Miguel, blister those skins with a trot that humans can't grasp. Fire Rose Vampira's abrupt tempo is surprising, but the jagged hooks expertly surround Javi's barks and snarls to ooze a warm anger that doesn't come easy. The track spits acid, shit, and bullets at a buzzing pace too quick to allow listeners to notice their wounds. The song never relents, the tracks never apologize, and you just never worried about that shit in the first place.

Look at the album's track listing and you'll see only five songs that span forty clicks. When two selections span nearly 25 minutes, doubt creeps in before the band's even had a fair shake. Gnosis of the Dead, however, is an exorcism you can't dismiss. A cool, wavering string arrangement warms up the puddle-skip drumwork, ultimately forming a moist stumble through the unknown. Don't ignore what brims on the backburner... this wall of filth is subtle and sticky, but the persistent rugburns will scour your face. A choppy and spooky doom roll takes a front seat as rhythm slows to a crawl. The chug you find, though, gives in to a relatively brisk pace as locusts swarm this demon train. That's right. Drums head the pick-up, bass pulls back, and guitars stretch to ensure both evils stay snappy. High-cymbal patience and loose, bubbling bass lead the oozing demise and ominous guitar slices in every direction. That preaching you hear is perfectly executed, as if the entire track built toward this drug-addled spiral. Seems Gnosis of the Dead is difficult to beat.

But I'm a sucker for that slow, buzzing groove. The rolling fizz of Earl Estruch, speckled with gravel-leavened vocals, steals center stage with an awful growl. The sludge rhythms are focused and forthright, with a slow and cool break that the cleanest of bass thumbings manages to highlight. Atmospheric and ambient in the strangest sense, this filth meets a grinding guitar crunch and somehow gets starfucked by (HUH?) a fuzzy, dusty solo. Sure, the rhythm carries itself into oblivion, but the guitar burns and the licks scar the backs of the bruised.

With Tort, Total Rust Music has again struck gold (if by gold you mean fat, riff-riddled sludge/doom). You'll hear glimmers of daylight tucked into the corners of these tracks, but the filth hammer drops and the sludge gods stay on top. The ribbons of thrash set apart Tort from their contemporaries, and the resulting sound on this album make for five crusty cracks on the sternum. Don't be a pussy. Take your licks and catch your breath. Then come back for more.

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