Review: Problem With Dragons ‘Accelerationist’

In their own words, Massachusetts based rockers Problem With Dragons third and latest album Accelerationist has been crafted with the intention, ‘to make the listener feel as though they are hopelessly accelerating toward their own demise, at the hands of those they most trusted, all while in the infinite vacuum of space.’

Problem With Dragons 'Accelerationist'

Forming in 2007, the band are made up of members who have cut their teeth in notable acts such as Curse The Son, The Hounds Of Hasselvander, and Lich King. The three-piece are self-described as ‘sludge punks’, but in truth their music is either a journalist’s wet dream, or nightmare, depending on whether you try to fit them into an easily definable box, or dig out the thesaurus and try and figure out the kaleidoscope of sounds that are going on.

Coming after an EP Atomics (2012), full lengths Starquake (2015) and Ascendent (2019) and in the course of their musical output, the band have set themselves no limits on avenues they have explored, covering elements of prog, stoner, doom, grunge, and metal to craft an intriguing sound that is as captivating as it is hard to define.

Produced by the band at Rock Valley Studio/The Ohm in their hometown Easthampton of Massachusetts, Accelerationist feels like they have completely immersed themselves in their own world, shorn of influences, and have created their most complete work yet.

The singular guitar on opener Live By The Sword quickly gives way to a fuzz heavy, stabbing drone overlaid with chanting, effect heavy vocals. The multi-layered harmonies give the track an early Alice In Chains feel as the guitar varies back and forth between retro doom and almost Jeff Wayne War Of The Worlds tweaking lead work. The lyrics simply consist of the title, looped, repeated, and twisted into variations creating a woozy, stoned out feeling as the track reels around it with creeping chord progressions and collapsing back into the lurching main hook.

By contrast In The Name Of His Shadow faints like it will repeat the same formula, robotic vocals intone ‘I’ll kill you now, now in the name of his shadow’ before bursting from the speakers as singer and drummer Rob Ives opens his throat and allows you to hear a commanding, yet clean vocal, that is capable of soaring and raging in equal in measure. Tumbling with false stops and starts, scything lead work courtesy of Joe Nickerson and underpinned by throbbing bass work from Ben Licata, the sound is robust and heavy as they explore cycles of rhythm and tonal shifts.

Don’t Fail Me starts with space prog rock before morphing into full on sludge. Once again, the vocals interplay with the music setting the scene with gruff barks and monastic chanting, giving the track a more hardcore edge that the likes of Prong carved out in the 90s. Being Problem With Dragons though, it wouldn’t be enough to simply walk this path for the duration and halfway through they switch gears and break into Tool like considered and ethereal noodling.

the band introduce expansive elements as little by little, the music shifts and morphs creating something new, giving the Accelerationist a mercurial and unpredictable feel…

The short lived 6,000 Spears and the dark A Demon Possessed bring back the rich, downbeat stoner vibes. Oscillating between heavyweight doom, the former in particular using the vocals, straining and impassioned to create a sense of desperation. Once again using the contrasting light and shade of the thick sounding low rumble and the jagged top end to the same effect that Kyuss often employed, only put through an industrial filter.

Dark Times (For Dark Times) develops this further, using the pulsing repetitive refrain of the title and the menacing crunch of the riffs that hark back to the classic template as laid down by Black Sabbath. When taken back-to-back with the following track Against Me, which starts in a similar manner, there is a slight fear that Problem With Dragons are overusing the style because they are very good at it, but over the course of both, the band introduce expansive elements as little by little, the music shifts and morphs creating something new, giving the Accelerationist a mercurial and unpredictable feel.

This is evident on the last three tracks as they continue with their understated style, offering variations and exploring moods and atmospherics, from the slow-paced doom of Astro Magnum, with its straightforward but sci-fi laced horror of monotoned vocals overlapping with screams, rather than the chanting rhythms of earlier, or the jarring high notes that snake through Have Mercy, Show Mercy. The latter comes across as muted and the band seemingly deconstruct their sound towards the end showcasing their individual strengths.

Ending on the title track, Problem With Dragons bring back the fuzz as they round out with a powerful, mournful number built around a central hook and shaman like vocal interplay which leaves you feeling like you’ve been privy to a ritual delivered by a futuristic apocalyptic cult.

Accelerationist can often feel like a strange album; It can frequently sound alien and detached. On the surface it can feel like many of the tracks are similar but Problem With Dragons have created something that deliberately asks you to sit with it and really listen, and only then will you start to see the shades of grey that are introduced, making this a subtle and nuanced album.

The band describes themselves with the ‘sludge punks’ tag I mentioned earlier, but in truth, if ever a band fitted the spurious ‘post’ tag that gets added to bands who don’t fit the mould of a genre convention, it is these guys. Their latest album is ambitious, even daring at times, and doesn’t sit well with any description but given the chance, it will surprise and fascinate you.

Label: Independent
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden