I hear the word Strontium and think of the long-running British comic series Strontium Dogs, a concept based around the imagined future after the Great Nuclear War of 2150. In the fallout of Strontium-90, humanity is subject to mutations that manifest physically and beyond, giving them abilities that border on the superhuman.
The convoluted relevance of that little piece of comic history is that County Antrim heavy-hitting behemoths Slomatics, the constantly mutating twenty-year veterans, have returned from the lost times of COVID with a new eight-track slab of downtuned, futuristic and sci-fi-themed broadcast of signals from beyond.
Strontium Fields not only builds on their previous releases but serves as a point of consolidation for past works as well as a stylistic leap forward, building on their impressive legacy as one of the UK’s most crushing purveyors of drone-orientated sludge and doom rock.
Reflecting on life after the lost time, the band have (in their own words) embraced a mindset ‘full of the joy of life, filtered through a wall of amps, fuzz boxes and ancient synthesisers.’ The least surprising thing about Strontium Fields though is that it is another high-powered weapon in their sonic arsenal.
Starting with Wooden Satellites, the band quickly set out their mission statement with trademark overdriven fuzzy walls of cavernous doom. It is easy to throw around superlatives like ‘lumbering’ and ‘crushing’ when talking about the sheer seismic force of the noise they wrench from their instruments (less easy to review when you unleash three of them in one sentence…), but the real strength of Slomatics lies in their ability to add layers under the surface of the initial impression.
Utilising techniques of building tracks around what seems like straightforward, barrelling barrages that channel Black Sabbath at their most belligerent and simplistic best might seem like fairly obvious stock in trade in the hands of some bands, but the Northern Irish trio add subtle flavours of light and shade and twist the narrative with exploration. As the music fluctuates and drops out to quiet plodding refrains, there is always a feeling of underlying tension and the beauty of the retro-sounding keys. The sprinkling of progressive space rock lends itself to the conceptual themes, as well as making the moments when the guitars crunch back in as heavy as an imploding star.
Alongside the music, the vocals of Marty on drums are low in the mix and echo with a plaintive pleading, meaning rather than dominate the proceedings, they become almost another piece of instrumentalisation that adds a desperate, haunting edge to the proceedings.
The almost seamless transition into I, Neanderthal is striking as they pick up the violent pace and would have been a perfect opportunity to use the ‘l’ word as they create an urgent feel with the taught drumming and bullish, aggressive riffing. Guitarists Chris and David trade blows that belies a heaviness that is not stunted by the lack of bass. This choppy, shifting rhythm once again sees the vocals straining with passion below the maelstrom as the clean refrains provide a striking contrast.
Slomatics deal in subtleties in a way many of their peers don’t…
Time Capture calls back to the out-of-worldly progressive nature, marking another shift and the vocals grow in strength, giving more prominence to the lyrics as the dancing effects lend a more choral arrangement, giving a floating feeling that offers respite from the ringing reverb that dominated the opening of the album.
The peace does not last too long as Like A Kind Of Minotaur returns to the heavy stomp, the crunching menace and the pounding march of earlier. The band also return to utilising light and shade to break up the relentless pounding, but as with all their tracks, this is no mere retread of ideas as they push themselves into creating new variants of the formula, breaking up the Cro-Magnon bludgeon. Here Marty’s vocals take on a bit of a harder edge, highlighting that Slomatics deal in subtleties in a way many of their peers don’t.
Voidians marks a departure. Opening with gentle notes and shorn of drums; the creeping beginnings allow the focus to be on the soaring Ozzy-influenced vocals. The track finally collapses into a stately, atmospheric doom that toys with you, building tension before it morphs into that thick and murky downbeat plod which makes the appearance of clean-sounding guitars and the almost country-flavoured sweep of Zodiac Arts Lab a welcome exhale of breath that wouldn’t sound out of place on the last 40 Watt Sun album. This delicate, short, detour into a tender missive gives the album a chance to relax and breaks up the sometimes oppressive and suffocating focus of the battering passages.
This thematic switch continues on ARCS for the briefest of moments until the band bring back the heavy, but retains the sentiment, giving the crawl to the end of the album a wistful feeling and a sense of the story moving into the final act. This perception of drama continues to build as they crank the dial on the atmospherics ahead of the album closer With Dark Futures.
Calling back to the theme of time, the spoken intro asks ‘Is it time? Is it ever really time?’ before the riff tsunami hits once again and Slomatics move back into that space they occupy between doom and stoner before they throw you a jazz-like curveball where the track breaks down, propelled on a stuttering drum pattern that when coupled with the heavier moments, see the band heading down the road into epic territory.
Whoever wrote their press release sums up the band’s seventh studio album perfectly, ‘And as they look ever forward in songwriting and performance, with an increasing scope and breadth bordering on the psychedelic, they are all the more unto themselves. The slow march to oblivion, put to tape.’
There’s not much more I can say about this album other than once it sinks its hooks in, I defy you to ignore it.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden