The Best Sludge Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2020





Something must be in the water of Finland's 1,000 lakes, because how else can one explain the mere existence of this colossal old-school riff monster? Firebride is the second full-length album of the friendly satanic four gentlemen from Tampere and in the seven years since the band's foundation they have lost nothing of their original aggressiveness, but in terms of varied songwriting and processing of the most diverse influences, they have gained even more. If you are looking for a somewhat slowed-down but more wicked, evil incarnation of Motörhead, you will find it here. Who ever wanted to know how a mixture of Wolverine Blues-era Entombed and Corrosion Of Conformity would sound can find out here. Behemoth and Mastodon get together intoxicated in the rehearsal room in order to record an idiosyncratic interpretation of Black Sabbath's Paranoid, but with deep death metal growls? Passages of Firebride actually sound like that's exactly what happened, and they fit seamlessly into the album's flow. Because the special thing about Firebride is that these many influences never sound forced; everything seems to have grown very naturally and is now seamlessly integrated into a riff thunderstorm of sludge, stoner, and death with a pinch of doom.

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In a similar vein to Hollow Leg's entry in this category last year, Omens is no-nonsense Southern metal swagger, with gruff vocals and meaty, dirty riffs. The guitar tone is dense in the lower registers and slick at higher pitches, and the riffs have a satisfying swinging groove to them. The band is also comfortable with writing cleaner sections that are naturally integrated alongside the louder, punchier riffs, perhaps a carryover from their stoner rock roots. Desert Storm delivers straightforward Southern sludge, with the dirt, groove, and power that one comes to expect from that sound; if that sound whets your appetite, you'll be hard-pressed to find it delivered to a better standard than Desert Storm managed on Omens.

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While the world was hoist into the throes of insanity at 2020's inauguration, Dukatalon quietly released their bludgeoning sophomore opus without much notice or fanfare, but the deep divers of the metal seas uncovered a gem of violently melodic chaos, cold and coordinated in its aural attack supported by an immense, overwhelming mechanical atmosphere. Sparing no expense in terms of groove, the interwoven ambient elements serve to bolster an otherwise all-out hypnotic chugging assault that practically forces heads to bang as much as bodies to sway: an Involuntary Action if you will.

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Rooted in sludge, the wings of Hexer's Feathered Serpent spread to encompass some of the space of post-metal and the, well, doom of doom. The end result is a square-peg-into-a-round-hole album that is appealing on many levels as the band slithers over the seedier alleys of the metal map exploring intensity and tension.

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Sludge is heavy and fuzzy; that we know thus far. But In The Company Of Serpents's Lux brings a lot more groovy blues rock and Americana into the jam, and we seriously mean jam. There's a lot more twang to how the riffs move and how the atmosphere is created, with the hefty vocals grounding them further along with the distorted fuzz and bass. Not all things are light, and having guest spots from Primitive Man and Khemmis only solidifies that there is some overarching heaviness as well as some direct gut-punch, not just psychedelic groove.

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After the gargantuan monolith that was Caustic, easily one of the most relentless dirges in the realms of sludge metal, how could Primitive Man follow it up? Well, that's easy: by condensing the formula down to its most vital and primal ingredients. The Denver trio showcases all its assets in a more compact and precise manner. Immersion might be their shortest full-length yet, but it retains everything that solidified the band's beastly sound and pulls no punches whatsoever. Every shot counts as the noisy walls of distorted riffs, pummeling drums, and throaty and deranged vocals close in on you. From the agonizingly slow progressions to the cathartic blast beats, Primitive Man refuses to free you from its grasp.

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It may be the exercise in aural flagellation that its title describes, but no fear of pain should prevent you from flinging yourself in front of the earthmover of distortion that is Relic Point's Self Punishment. Heavy repetition and the sheer blunt force of reverberating sound make the album feel like exceptionally crushing drone at times, while the strange, lurching patterns and amorphous song structures suggest Chaos Echús. As a work of pure volume and abrasion, Self Punishment is the equal of any sludge album released in 2020, but the alien approach to composition and hypnotic recursion of riffs make the album sound as if it gained sentience halfway through arising from a toxic slag heap. Skillfully combining doom, death, black metal, and hardcore punk is one thing, but you need to have witnessed some special horrors to make music that sounds like Relic Point.

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Stemming out of a collaboration at Roadburn Festival, Emma Ruth Rundle and Thou collaborating on a record might seem like an odd pairing. And it is, but in practice they work far better than in theory by finding some common ground in '90s alt rock and then inflicting their own sounds upon that. The blend isn't as seamless as would be ideal, but May Our Chambers Be Full is an album that didn't take the easy path in its collaborative nature; instead it is gritty, whooshing, crushing, and morose, but not all at the same time. Turns out they had more shared DNA than everyone initially assumed. And this year we got more of it.

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Doing everything possible to live up to their band name, Vile Creature bring their repugnant A-game to the sludge scene with Glory, Glory! Apathy Took Helm!, a deeply disturbed and problematic showcase of discomfort in audio form. Torturous shrieks, crushing bass lines, and exhaustively droning riffs that wriggle and writhe beneath an extensive layer of putrid ambiance, this Indian-esque monstrosity will have you scrambling to assure yourself that your taste in music is normal -- it's everyone else who is wrong.

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Yashira's approach to sludge takes elements from both post-metal and mathcore, resulting in something sinister, heavy-hitting, at times chaotic, and yet atmospheric. The expected throat-ripping roars and slow, bludgeoning riffs are run through a filter of dissonant chords, frantic rhythms, and hints of faint melody; Fail To Be sees Yashira approach The Dillinger Escape Plan levels of mathcore frenzy ("Shards Of Heaven") and attempt more spacious, expansive writing on tracks such as "Kudzu", whilst still being able to rely on pure mid-tempo sludge power ("The Weight"). Capped off with a guest appearance from Full Of Hell's Dylan Walker on arguably its standout track ("Shades Erased"), Fail To Be takes sludge into abrasive territories whilst still knowing how and when to slip in necessary moments of relative levity.

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