The band -(16)- have never quite landed squarely in my field of interest, on the face of it, they are ‘sludge’ but always at that ‘metal’ end of the sound that has never been where my ears were. I saw them once about twenty years ago on a raucous day at the Camden Underworld, and I’m pretty sure they were already being billed as legendary veterans of the scene. Their three-decades-plus has certainly left -(16)- confident in their craft, and masters of their sound.
All across Into Dust they balance crisp and punchy drums, massive guitar tones with some surprising gloss where needed, along with clean and heavy vocals that show more variety than most. This is their toolkit for a set of songs that encompasses both directed violence and expansive melancholy as in Scrape The Rocks, a lament for ‘running aground metaphorically and drowning in midlife’.
As with my impressions of -(16)- up to this point, Into Dust swings about and is not always exactly my cup of tea, wrong-footing me as gritty sludged-up hardcore, turns to duelling guitars and vocal melodies. This is pulled off with an undeniable confidence and skill that recalls, at times, what Acid Bath did from a more thrashy starting point. I tip my hat to -(16)- for marrying what could be disparate elements in their use of a crusty foundation to reach up to epic and anthemic moments that from many bands would fall flat.
All across Into Dust they balance crisp and punchy drums, massive guitar tones with some surprising gloss where needed…
Not that this is an album without its ‘straight-ahead’ passages – such as the punky Lane Splitter which seems to be a cautionary tale against risky motorcycling and filtering through traffic. The contrast from here with the unapologetically classic metal opening of Never Paid Back makes plain that this is a stylistic choice that the band fully own, not least as the song develops in an almost grunge direction.
In the later section of the album, -(16)- lean heavily into the sleaze that grunge often had to offer but show in Dressed Up To Get Messed Up that they are just as likely to drop into a big hard-rocking boogie. And as grizzled warriors like -(16)- clearly know, the biggest surprise is best saved till last. It almost feels like a spoiler to mention the jazz club sax and spoken word opening of the closing track Born On A Barstool, it’s a dramatic final challenge from a band showing they can use wildly contrasting influences and musical elements, both juxtaposed and integrated, in a coherent and emotionally honest creative expression.
So, what am I saying here? I don’t fully dig -(16)-, I find some of the album is not quite to my taste, but the artistic mastery and unique songwriting choices shown are absolutely stunning. Somehow, I’m not managing to bring together contrasting elements as well as Into Dust. Maybe I need another twenty years or so…
Scribed by: Harry Holmes