Style: Sludge Metal
Release Date: 18 Jan 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website
The Mound Builders have been around for a while. They released their debut album back in 2011, but it's taken seven years to get round to this one and it's easy to see that these Indiana sludge monsters have been listening to a lot of different music in that time.
Musically they're tight. Torchbearer opens this album in glorious fashion, with a slow but neatly powerful riff from Brian Boszor for the rest of the band to gradually heat up around. A minute in, he speeds up to join them and the tempo continues to grow as the track runs on. By the time Boszor gets to wail halfway through, they're speeding along at a rate of knots, ready to start slowing down again. Plot the speed of this track on a graph and it would look rather like, well, a mound. I wonder if that was a deliberate choice.
The weak side of Torchbearer for me are the vocals of Jim Voelz, who betrays the punk influence of this band most obviously. He's a hardcore shouter with a capable rasp to his voice and he does it well, but it's not my thing. The limited backing vocals are quintessentially punk harmonies too and I can't say that this vocal approach doesn't fit the material. I just know that the music here is clearly not being generated by a set of amateurs who only know three chords and I wanted to pay more attention to it than the vocals allowed me to do. I'd have loved this album if it was shorn of vocal work entirely.
In addition to Boszor on guitar, the power trio that underpin the Mound Builders is completed by Ryan Strawsma on bass and Jason Brookhart on drums. This trio obviously have punk in their blood too but, however much they're happy to speed up to thrash levels at points and almost become a crossover band, the delightfully weighty riffs betray a Black Sabbath fixation that I really can't complain about and they do seem happy to spend the majority of their time in slow doom than fast thrash, reserving speed for where it'll have the most effect.
What I think I appreciated most were the points where slow became fast or vice versa. The tempo of Acid Slugs is all over the place but the transitions are glorious. The first one took me totally by surprise but I adored it. I'm not sure what acid slugs are, though apparently they "did this to us, killing the human spirit". At least they didn't kill the spirit of this band, because the invention going on in this track is wonderful stuff.
Only one track later they do the same thing again with Star City Massacre, carefully building a sludge tempo only to ratchet up to thrash speed with a single perfectly executed transition. Fans of both Sabbath and Pantera will appreciate these songs and others in the same vein like Regolith.
Otherwise this is mostly for sludge metal fans of Crowbar and their ilk. The Mound Builders are less fuzzy in guitar tone and more shrieky in vocal style, as if the musicians want to play metal but the singer wants to stay punk. That they merge the two styles well means that, after a few more albums, maybe we'll be comparing other bands to them rather than their predecessors.