Having formed initially in 2015, the self-pronounced anti-supergroup Tar Pond first spawned into life featuring members of Coroner and Celtic Frost. Having recorded their debut album Protocol Of Constant Sadness in 2016 into 2017, sadly, the former Celtic Frost bassist Martin Ain (RIP) passed, and so the album didn’t see the light of day until its final release in 2020.
Since then, the band has undergone several personnel changes, and as we step forward to 2023, they are ready to re-emerge from the Swiss swamps as a newly invigorated quintet with a devastating new album entitled Petrol.
The five-piece are a ‘sonic doom and gloom’ ensemble with dense post-metal overtones. Loosely comparable with elements of Black Sabbath, and apparently not un-akin to Saint Vitus, I personally, and I may well draw some disapproving looks, and shaking head gestures here, actually have them marked down as a doom version of Alice In Chains.
Now, before I get into any arguments, hear me out, and I will explain why…
Now, I know there are Celtic Frost, Coroner, and Saint Vitus nods going on, and I can completely see that, but what I hear when I listen to Petrol is a mix of slowed Alice In Chains, specifically Dirt era, with a vocal not unlike Layne Staley’s. By this, I mean if you were to drop the trademark Alice In Chains sound to doom levels, that’s where it hits me, and while I am not a connoisseur of Coroner, I am for Alice In Chains. In all my years of listening to heavy music, there is only one other band who really give me an Alice In Chains vibe, and that’s Alabama’s EMBR. Maybe it’s that darkness, maybe it’s the downtuned grunge, but with this, it catches that feeling within me.
That being said, Alice In Chains have always been a favourite band of mine, so this is actually a passionately loving response for the album. I really, really loved this album, and here’s why…
It feels completely organic. It feels like a band who haven’t gone into a studio to replicate anyone else. It’s a band who bring in different elements from each member and produces something which maybe they have, or maybe they haven’t noticed, but is as unique as it is familiar.
To give some clarity, without delving too deeply, I really hope all of you reading this who have been interested to this point, will go out, and find this album. I hope you draw similar conclusions through your own listening experience, and, in part, through my expanding on these initial statements, with an open mind, and not turn away by my mere words.
Coming to Petrol itself, the album is five tracks of doomy, durgy heaviness, which will drag you down into the mire and leave a mark long after it has finished. At just under forty minutes in length, that’s still a solid amount of bang for your buck, and it will be worth every single penny.
five tracks of doomy, durgy heaviness, which will drag you down into the mire and leave a mark long after it has finished…
Right from opener Bomb, to closing track Dirt, it’s an uncompromisingly deep album. Yes, there are more ambient moments in the mix where the pace slows and the band really work those moods to compact the parallels between the highs and the lows, but even then, it is still pretty dark.
The early chugs on Bomb working in unison with Thomas Ott’s Layne Staley style vocal swagger really set the mood for the whole opus, and the slow-paced skin thumping throughout pulls you down as it goes. It’s right from this track that I draw my comparisons, I can even envisage Jerry Cantrell’s synonymous guitar patterns being played in slow motion for maximum devastation.
While Blind is slightly faster in pace, it is in no way any more upbeat, if anything it plays on a real sludgy tone, and throughout the piece, it’s grimy without being unlistenable.
Slave continues to lead us down this path, and right into the entrance of track four, Something. This changes things up, and complete with some shoegaze ambience which is not unpleasing on the ears, it rejuvenates the band’s sound. While there are no significant choruses here, or over the whole album for that matter, what there is, which may also draw those AIC comparisons, is the harmonised vocal, a definitive AIC trait. This for me, is the defining moment on the album, and it really elevates the game.
The album finale Dirt starts in a more pensive manner and with an ethereal mystical spoken passage, but it isn’t long before things open out into another doom onslaught. Even at its harshest moments, this track doesn’t go beyond itself and into a harder realm. It stays firmly on that drudge plateau, and throughout, there are several splatterings of that Staley/Cantrell dual vocal that has always worked so well. By its conclusion it doesn’t end with a cinematic apocalypse of sound, instead favouring a more chilled trailing off.
Coming away from Petrol, I will conclude with this…
In the realms of doom, sludge and stoner music, there are many clichés. There are a lot of comparisons to the almighty Black Sabbath, most of which are completely fair as they set the benchmark many moons ago, and that’s where we all go to for our comparisons, especially for a band’s sounds. Tar Pond, however, are beyond that. Somehow, they feel like, well to me anyway, a band who looked to a different light for guidance. What they have produced, which while feeling familiar, is something new and evolved. It needs embracing, some moulds need to be broken and here the cracks are showing for sure.
Scribed by: Lee Beamish