In most of my reviews, I try to only comment on the music that is presented on the album. However, when the additional context is useful and interesting, I’m happy to throw it in. Ancillary information is useful and also entertaining in the case of Slugdge and their new LP, Esoteric Malacology, out March 2nd on Willowtip Records. First of all, let’s get the pronunciation correct. It doesn’t rhyme with ‘luggage,’ it’s ‘slug-dge.’ Secondly, this band sings about slugs and the all-knowing, all-seeing Molluska, but in a myriad of contexts. With their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, Matt Moss and Kev Pearson, the band’s only two members, produce their own brand of blackened progressive death metal. Now, onto the record.
The first track on Esoteric Malacology is the tech-leaning “War Squids.” The title is a playful tribute to a classic metal song which is a trend that you’ll see throughout the record. What becomes incredibly clear is that Slugdge may have a great sense of humor, but they take their composition and performance quite seriously. The riffs are fierce, the drumming is exquisite, and the vocals are dirty. This track sits around eight minutes and is rife with transitions that engage and entertain. “Crop Killer” is up next and this one expands on the previously established sound in a variety of ways. Clean vocals are mixed in and the rollicking main riff is complemented by the bass lines and dense atmosphere. It was around this point in my listen that I not only realized that I love this band, but that this is an impeccably mixed record. The lyrical content may be slimy, but the production is anything but.
It’s at this point that we reach a real standout on the record. “The Spectral Burrows” is a mix of technical riffs, harmonized clean-but-still-fiery vocals a` la Gojira, and some cavernous growls in the spacious sections of the track. I think this is one of the standout songs on the album, and one of the best progressive metal songs of the year so far. Depending on your point of view and taste though, you could almost make that argument for many of the songs on Esoteric Malacology. “Slave Goo World,” Slugdge’s tip of the hat to Sepultura, is another technical masterclass, with more of the blackened death showing through. What’s to be certain though is that this album is bursting at the seams with energy and creativity.
The hits just keep coming with “Putrid Fairytale” and “Salt Thrower” being the standouts on the second half. I did find that I could get a little fatigued at times after a full listen through, but the hooks always pulled me back in. I also want to make one thing clear: despite all of the lore surrounding this band and their creatively spoofed song titles, this isn’t a comedy band. They have simply created a well from which to draw inspiration and layered it into everything element of their music. Sure singing about slugs in a cosmic sense isn’t typical death metal fare, but it’s just as good of fodder as anything else. I’d argue that it’s even more creative then just belting on about the devil, war, and the ills of society. It’s escapism in the truest sense, but the music isn’t dulled by it.
Being somewhat familiar with Slugdge, I was quite interested to hear what they would come up with on this record. I have always enjoyed their style musically, as well as how they present themselves. While I don’t know if this band is trying to outright satirize the entire metal scene for pure fun or to indeed make a point, I enjoy their process immensely. This is a colossal album by an incredibly talented pair of musicians. Simply put, there’s nothing to dislike about Esoteric Malacology. This will hold up as one of the better progressive metal releases of the year, and will wiggle its way into the hearts of everyone that hears it.
Notable Tracks: “The Spectral Borrows”; “Putrid Fairytale”; “Salt Thrower”
FFO: Altarage, Chthe’ilist, Horizon Ablaze