I’ve put myself in an unusual position with this review – that of giving my opinion of a sludge record. This is something which I vowed I would never do, not out of any antipathy or malice to the genre, but out of the mere fact that most of it just plain doesn’t interest me. There’s only so much pre-fabricated hatred and screaming I can take before I get bored; I’d rather be listening to (good!) death metal. But before you all jump me and forbid me from entry, I will counter that statement by admitting that there are some very major exceptions in the genre that get constant play on planet Saul – the one uniting factor is that all the bands concerned are far from the diluted, predictable mess that permeates the genre these days. UFO Gestapo I’ve written about at length, but Grief and Corrupted are the two biggest players of the old guard for whom I reserve special attention, the former for their early Nineties Peaceville death-doom pedigree (and superior, well thought out lyrics), and the latter for their proud grind roots. Bands that pioneered the genre and gave short thrift to the conventions and clichés that would stifle the genre in years to come.
The Disease Concept set out a stall that commands attention from the outset, not just for the Fistula/Sollubi connection (with whom they also share Scott Stearns’s striking artwork), but primarily because it features the guitar talents of a certain David Szulkin, of legendary Hellhound recording artists Blood Farmers. Any doom fanatic worth his or her salt is fully aware of Szulkin’s inability to play a duff riff, and this album is a showcase of his (and Tommy Southard of Solace fame)’s virtuosity on the axe. The first track, “Black Cocaine” blasts in with a lurching bluesy bass riff of the kind that Church of Misery have made their trademark (being signed to same ill-fated label as Blood Farmers, they even toured Japan together). But this bunch don’t fall into the pitfall that just about every band trying to do this kind of thing falls victim to – they have riffs, hooks and don’t just go for a constant barrage of harsh, blown-out noise and screaming. This is Southern rock (Black Oak Arkansas and the ever-present Skynyrd) channeled through the spirit of Iommi, especially when the stripped back, raw solos kick in.
For the second track, “Double Winner”, we are more firmly within the slow dirge of Eyehategod territory, the vocals far harsher and more tormented than the opening track, although drug abuse and the associated negativity are a theme that predominantly dictate the EP’s lyrical content regardless of pace – after all, the band’s name is taken from the theory of addiction being a disease! “Troublemaker Makes Trouble” ups the pace again with a riff that Jus Oborn might have thought up at his most pissed off (“Come My Fanatics”, anyone?) – with an opening cry of “Scumbag! Asshole!”, the spirit of Mike IX looms, and gives a somewhat all-too-obvious sense of déjà-vu to an otherwise outstanding track, which also includes a dose of hardcore blasting from Corey Bing’s kit, and the spirit of punk carries over to the next track, “Undignified Death”, which for some reason made me think of G.B.H. on 16RPM. Fuck knows why, but it’s bloody good. The EP closes with the slow bombast of “Suboxone Blues”, a throwback to the first Vitus LP, bringing a sense of closure to a record that’s a real kick in the face and doesn’t mince its words.
Clocking in at around half an hour, this exceptionally well-produced EP could easily be considered a full length, and it stands out from any other sludge doing the rounds by having the perfect blend of punk, doom and hard rock. Rather than trying to emulate the pioneers of the genre, The Disease Concept draw from the same well of inspiration that spawned the first wave of what became known as “sludge”, and although the result is very similar, they’ve managed to draw their own conclusions and create a sound that’s very familiar but endowed with enough spirit and creativity to be judged as heavy as hell in its own right. What this record lacks in originality, it makes up for in execution, spit and quality. It takes a hell of a lot to get me to listen to any band of this kind past about the three minute mark these days, much less listen to them several times over and find something new every time. There’s life in the old dog yet!
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Scribed by: Saúl Do Caixão