When Rue’s second full-length ‘Thorns’ opens to the gently layered, acoustic guitar musing of the title track, the unwary listener (or one with no prior knowledge of the band, at least) may easily be lured into a false sense of security. This is no doubt the intention, for as becomes readily apparent, the track is merely a prelude to the true opener ‘Brown’ – a portal directly into Rue’s own pocked sludge hell – which is torn into with such suddenness and grating ferocity it almost made my unsuspecting flatmate shit himself.
Having emerged somewhat sleepily from the post-EyeHateGod sonic landscape with their debut full-length in 2003, output from Ohio’s Rue has since remained fairly minimal, with a split with Alebaran in 2004 and an EP in 2008. The time Rue have spent on the touring circuit honing their miasmic, filthy craft is clearly evident on ‘Thorns’. It is an incredibly dense, dirty slab of fuzz, and the band sound pretty damn tight, Greg Cook’s drumming in particular. Rue’s greatest asset, however, is arguably vocalist Jeff Fahl. A myriad of vocal textures underlie the cacophony of chaos on Thorns – a schizophrenic slew of howls, snarls, death rattles, guttural roars and even a clean drawl that generate a consistent air of madness, sounding like Baron Samedi and his Vodun pals having a horrific collective panic attack and trying to rip each others’ heads off.
Unfortunately, the most memorable tracks on ‘Thorns’ are limited mostly to its first half. ‘Sadaver’ is the major highlight, showcasing Fahl’s groans over a number of roiling riffs, while shifting and flowing enough to keep the listener’s attention. Hell, it even has a brief melodic guitar solo that shines out of the thick gloom like a pinprick of daylight. ‘Broken Arms, Broken Wings’ is taut and restless, and ‘Brown’ even sports a catchy chorus. However, by its midsection the record begins to drag like an overweight bulldog. Though promising at the outset, the main riffs and melodies begin to bleed into one another, and any decipherable lyrics begin to border increasingly on the banal.
The greatest Achilles’ heel on ‘Thorns’ however, is that it just feels like we’ve heard it all before, and executed better. Like many other sludge bands, their influences are worn proudly, and the phantoms of bands including Kyuss and EyeHateGod linger just off the edge of view, occasionally creeping into focus with a certain riff or phrasing. Rue show potential, but on Thorns never quite find a streak of originality to raise them above the horde of bands jostling to flog the sludge subgenre’s weathered corpse. Only with the final full track ‘A Walk of Lies’ does the record pick up again with some attention-grabbing pace changes, but by then the attention has already wandered to other matters. By the time the bubbling sound of the outro’s reversed acoustic guitar appears, it feels like a relieved emergence from eternal burial in the seething mudslide that makes up Rue’s soundworld. Though with Fahl’s echoing spoken word beneath, it even manages to come off as a fairly poignant end to the journey.
Thus, although flawed, Thorns does indeed show glimmers of promise. Only time will tell if they can successfully forge beyond the known boundaries of sludge metal, or at least close enough. Hopefully it wont be another eight years in the making.
Scribed by: George Leeming