This may be an unusual way to begin, but don’t put the album on just yet. Look at that cover. Look at that artwork. Look harder. Look again and then again. Breathe it all in. Soak in that humidity. Taste that otherworldly atmosphere. Feel that dusty density. Gaze at those strange, battling sci-fi bison and that mysteriously hovering space craft. Hear that eerie, crushing silence, permeated only by a distant, breeze howling through the canyons. What does it all mean? Where is this gravity-challenging planet? Only one man can create these visual masterpieces which fill me with such emotion and awe; artwork which not only visualises a concept, but expands and builds upon it too. That man is Tony Roberts and his work deserves to command as much respect as Slomatics’ decade of determination to create the loudest, most face-denting soundscapes this side of Sunn O))).
‘Estron’ represents somewhat of a departure from the Belfast bruisers’ traditional intention to simply be bone-crushingly heavy. I’m not knocking the likes of 2012’s concrete-threatening ‘A Hocht’ or 2007’s none-more-claustrophobic ‘Kalceanna’, but there is/was a purpose within a great deal of Slomatics’ stunning legacy of releases to basically inflict pain, suffering, dread and intensity through the art of metal music alone. Those albums were highly commendable in their own right, but in ‘Estron’, the Irish three-piece manage to couple their star-fuelling power with a progressive tendency that’s both well refined and now as much centre-stage as their obsession with amplification. A lot of this has to do with the influence of new-ish drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey, whose ethereal wail rides the tidal waves of guitar to headier heights than his predecessor Joe achieved whist his stomp behind the kit anchors the groove-laden din into a place where majestic new kingdoms can be conquered.
Seemingly beginning by stepping out of Roberts’ mythical space-craft onto the surface of his dry red planet, the wind whistles by briefly before summoning in ‘Troglorite’s fuzz-drenched hue. One of the more straight-up doom n’ crunch tracks on the record, ‘Troglorite’ is a self-contained odyssey of heaviness so dense that it sounds like the collective members of Torche cloning themselves three times over and then playing a bowel-destroying gig around a campfire with Samothrace as their support act. It doesn’t get any softer for the next forty minutes, nor is that really what anyone would want as the concept continues by segueing smoothly into the epicentre of Slomatics’ vortex on ‘Tunnel Dragger’. Let’s face it, anything with the word “dragger” in the title is setting itself up to be pretty damn heavy, but there’s a spacey interlude of synthesised beauty and some spine-tingling Theremin which sets ‘Estron’ aside from the pummelling output of bands like Conan, Bongripper or even Godflesh.
‘Futurian’ quickens the snail’s march across the desolate terrain and puts deeper emphasis on Marty’s exacting, yet dynamic, punishment behind the kit. There’s more bludgeon here than guile from twin axe-grinders David Majury and Chris Couzens which fails to let up as they slide into the Neanderthal battle of ‘Lost Punisher’; an exercise in doom so primitive that the riffs are barely beyond the scope and definition of singular, drop-tuned gargantuan pangs of noise.
‘And Yet It Moves’ tickles harder on the cosmic fancy, reminding us as to the reasons why several other critics are already labelling ‘Estron’ as a template for “space sludge”. The spirit is slow and lingering on this one as elegant solos trickle in over David and Chris’ unwavering surges of underworld-dredging. Marty’s lyrical passages are perhaps longer and more audible than Joe’s would have been at this point, telling a tale rather than barking commands through the riff blizzard. James Plotkin’s masterful mix handles this effect well, letting the vocals seep through the guitars from the back of the stage, yearning and desperate for the smallest corner of your ear to call their own and it’s almost as if the atmosphere of the planet itself is slowly suffocating Marty’s voice. This is a definite album highlight and one that’s deeply unsettling throughout.
‘Red Dawn’ provides us with a brief, sleepy interlude of shooting-star electronics; like the break of a new day in this galaxy far far away, before 10-minute closer ‘The Carpenter’ arrives to throttle us back into the ether. Beginning with some alienating feedback and some of the most sinister drumlines this side of a classic Goblin release, ‘The Carpenter’s guitars are prepared to wait their turn. When they do finally crash home at the 4-minute mark, a certain level of terror has built and Marty’s desperate screams of “No! No! No! Mother!” cackle through the radiowaves like Justin Broadrick trapped down some ancient well; lonely, damp and cold, yet determined and adamant. This torment continues for several minutes until the hurt and desperation dies away to be replaced by some cold, lifeless, almost mechanical riffs and Marty’s dull, thudding kick-drum. The conclusion of the story itself is unclear, but rather than slam into a huge epic climax, the guitars slowly fade out back into the electrical storm-clouds that welcomed us with dry, grasping hands onto ‘Estron’. All we’re left with in the dying seconds of the album is the isolating, whistling wind and a couple of seconds of martian-esque garble.
Head Of Crom (LP) & Burning World (CD), the labels that once brought us Conan, have delivered the goods once again. If the idea of the soundtrack to Blade Runner being re-performed as a doom metal epic turns you on, then ‘Estron’ is something you should seek out on vinyl immediately. Slomatics have made their departure from being simple volume bruisers by trade to incorporating some very, very dark atmospheres into this true prog-doom gem. “Space sludge”, I’m not so sure, but yet every repeated listen of ‘Estron’ makes the entire concept so many times more startlingly and unnerving that it seems over-indulgent to listen again. Yet I can guarantee that you still will. They say that in space no-one can hear you scream, but if you were in space, I’m confident you’d be able to hear Slomatics.
Scribed by: Pete Green