It’s time for some grime! No, not the hip-hop offshoot from across the pond; I’m talking about gritty, dirty sludge metal! Ontario-based Greber play a special brand of grinding sludge that’s unkind to your ears unless you’re attuned to the aesthetic the genre entails. The riffs are thick, usually low to mid-tempo, and coat you in a mess you can’t get off. With Cemetery Preston, you get a lot of that, but that’s pretty much it.
Greber had prefaced their new album to Exclaim! with the following words: ‘With Cemetery Preston we dug a bit deeper and got a lot darker in the overall sound and feel of this record. Our aim was to make it as ugly as possible both musically and lyrically.’ A job well done, I guess, because this album is pretty ugly aesthetically. It just sounds like a filthy mess, but given the genre we’re in, that’s nothing but a compliment. The music has an elephantine weight to it, pressing and holding you down; the guitars are crunchy and caustic; drums are plodding and crushing. Both of the primary members of the Greber duo, Steve Vargas (plays drums, raspier voice) and Marc Bourgon (bass, gruff voice), provide vocals. It’s a duality that plays out nicely, both voices having distinct inflections and tones. As far as lyrics go, no solace from the sludge is to be found here, as every song uses nihility, negativity, and cutting cynicism to perpetuate the mood of the album.
But none of that means the album can’t impress with good melodies! “By Any Other Name” has a melody that falls down scales like tripping down a staircase. It leads to a particular defeatist message: ‘With failure comes excuse/Old connections that cut you loose/Severed the hand of the master/But you’re still a slave‘. “Backhanded Interest” starts the album off nicely with some meaty bass work that sounds like something that could be found on an Iron Reagan album, while “Prophetic” uses some punky drum and bass rhythms to really get things going. “Our Burnt Treasure” flirts with these tempos as well, but the former is the better of the two in terms of execution.
In the middle of the album, we have “Overdraft”. It’s a low point tonally, but a high point in terms of quality. The atmosphere strangles the vocals as if recorded in a dungeon. It offers a slight reprieve from everything up until now, but the sedated core instrumentation is still there, if a little more reserved than usual. This is basically a more fleshed-out interlude that is quite welcome in the track list.
There’s some pretty serious doom vibes on this album, which should be no surprise to sludge fans. “No One but You” snails right along, only picking up in the second half. The crowning jewel of Cemetery Preston is no doubt the eight-plus minute death rattle “The Closer We Got”. The track starts out slow with massive, deliberate drums and guitar work. It ramps up to higher tempos similar to how “Prophetic” starts, but goes steps further with the rhythms turning into thrash fills and flourishes at times.
I think what Greber have made is admirable in the eyes of people that enjoy their music as slow and dirty as molasses. Although I consider myself one of those people, I still can’t help but struggle to find that ‘quicksand’ element, that one thing that pulls me down and fully engulfs me in the music. Shifts in mood and speed like the ones I detailed earlier are nice, but it all boils down to the same stuff. Even with as short as this album is (nine tracks, 35 minutes), it’s hard to push through, simply because it feels like all the album’s best ideas are made apparent in the first half. Maybe that feeling was intentional given the genre, and if that’s the case, it’s definitely something that was taken too far so as to be detrimental to the overall experience.
Cemetery Preston is sludge metal personified. It’s grimy, mean and unrelenting. To this effect, the music succeeds well enough, but it becomes apparent quicker than it should that this is a one-trick pony. That one trick is cool, but can’t carry a whole show, not even a short one. Are you down for a half-hour of solid, albeit somewhat repetitive, muck to wade through? If so, you’ll find yourself right at home.
Notable Tracks: “Backhanded Interest”; “Prophetic”; “Overdraft”
FFO: Pyrrhon, Hooded Menace, All Pigs Must Die