Black Sabbath have a lot to answer for really. For me, unarguably the greatest heavy metal band of all time, the originators, the sound that launched a million pale imitations. Their legacy weighs heavy over almost every band that has come after them, particular in the stoner and doom scenes where the bedrock for the sub-genre’s sounds have literally been built on the foundation of Messers Iommi, Osbourne, Butler and Ward.
At times taking this platform can generate some electrifying results; Kyuss in a short lived career managed to spawn even more abuse of the heavy blues style, sometimes from people who didn’t even like the source material, and soar eagle like over a scene obsessed with the dusty desert and copious amounts of Mary Jane.
Elsewhere Sleep, Saint Vitus and Electric Wizard to name but a few, dragged the horror movie inspired sound in a multitude of downbeat and occult referencing directions. However, for every ceiling smashing band there are those who ride their wake.
That is not necessarily a negative I should clarify, but it’s easy to get lost in the mire.
Curse The Son have been around since 2008, rising from the ashes of Sufferghost, and have unleashed four releases on the world with 2013’s Psychache gaining them traction enough to sign with Ripple Music for 2017’s Isolator (originally released independently in 2016). Having been on hiatus since 2018 following a horrific motorcycle injury to bassist Brendan Keefe, 2020 sees them follow up with Excruciation, 9 tracks of heavy blues riffing, doom laden metal.
The album starts off with the weirdly titled Suicide By Drummer and so begins our journey with a massive homage to Black Sabbath. Leaning heavily on the Sabotage era, it’s supped up fuzz with effect augmented and stratospheric Ozzy style vocals courtesy of founding member Ron Vancore.
Whilst I doubt that Robert Ives caused anyone to take their life with his debut drum recording for the band, but listening to the busy clatter and pounding, it’s clear he’s been a worthy addition to Curse The Son. And the song is a misplaced statement of intent that has a bouncing Hole In The Sky that swerves off into a cavernous, mournful dirge prophesying that ’This entire world is dying’.
Disaster In Denial is a plodding Masters Of Reality style grind, once more borrowing the tones of those timeless towering riffs. It positively crawls, bringing you more tales of woe for the world, toxic destruction over glacial bass notes and stop/start dynamics. The seemingly aimless guitar solo is a tender moment that ends up sitting on the unsettling side of beautiful.
Novembre is more of a departure from the Birmingham founder’s template as they get moody with a Neurosis flavoured slow drawl and creeping atmospherics. The first two tracks seemed to have the band pegged as yet more slaves to Sabbath, but Novembre has more of a pysch/drone feel. The build and release brings in harmonies and ominous multi-layered vocal choruses and when the higher pitched Ozzy-esque style comes back, it fits with the story being crafted. For me this is definitely a highlight of the album as the band stretches themselves far beyond their initial promise.
It positively crawls, bringing you more tales of woe for the world, toxic destruction over glacial bass notes…
Worry Garden is yet another change in sound. Although not far from the Sabbath tree, it focuses on a grunge/Alice In Chains like riff with the Osbourne lite vocals it doesn’t sound too dissimilar to what the Ozzman’s Black Rain was probably mean to sound like. The jarring cascading lyrical passage breaks up the flow for me, but they’re trying something different.
The title track itself is another change in direction, opening up a Deep South country ballad with laconic, deep baritone vocals that’s laid back and hypnotic. The expansive medley and harmonies ebb and rise, taking you out of the moment and pulling you in.
As the band open up and introduce more layers, they build towards a heavy crunch with a stop/start sway ending on a military rat-a-tat-tat of the snare like some Dixie land march of defiance.
Infinite Regression sees a return of the Ozzy vocals again, the heavy edged doom and space rock plodding for an energetic but forgettable nod along. Black Box Warning however is memorable as the vocals dance between strains of Chris Cornell and, well strained…I always try and put a positive spin on my reviews but if I am honest I flat out hated this track until it broke into a canter and got went back to aping Black Sabbath for the home stretch.
Devil Doctor Blues however made things better with its classic blues. Slide with stomp and spoken vocals, but as enjoyable as it was, it seems out of place and any mood it conjures is crashed by Phoenix Rising. A great piece of soaring, power metal full of great riffing, where we get to hear Vancore’s vocals in a more natural state. Frankly it’s hands down the best track on the album.
Everyone here cuts lose and rocks hard, the Black Sabbath influence is there, but it’s deep fuzz is enhanced by a vision the band are clearly comfortable with and are full of life, almost like it took them dying for nearly the whole pissing album, to then be reborn at the final hour as a much better creation.
As I say, I like to be constructive in my reviews, but I found Excruciation an extreme frustrating record to listen to.
Curse The Son clearly have talent, the amount of stylistic turns they take show they’re accomplished musicians and when they are on point, like on Phoenix Rising or Novembre, they’re really good and more than worthy of your time.
But, and not to labour the point, it’s a hard album to critique fairly; on one hand they play it safe and join the ranks of forgettable Sabbath tributes, on the other, when they experiment, I’m calling them out for it. For the band, this review at times must read like a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t; this would ring true if they hadn’t shown me that when they kick back and just be themselves (as they have done on at least two of the tracks) they can achieve great things.
A curse indeed, son.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden