Style: Heavy Metal
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OK, how did I miss that a band existed with the utterly glorious name of The Lord Weird Slough Feg? I get the reference, because I grew up reading Best of 2000 AD Monthly and enjoyed Sláine as much as Judge Dredd, Halo Jones or Strontium Dog. Apparently, Mike Scalzi enjoyed him too, and took the name of Sláine's ancient and rotting Drune nemesis for his band.
They've been around since 1990, but this marks a return to their full name because they were simply Slough Feg from 2005 until earlier this year. This is their tenth album, the first since 2014's Digital Resistance. I'm really intrigued to see how they've progressed over the last quarter of a century, because a) their album ratings at Metal Archives seem pretty consistent and b) this doesn't sound like a product of 2019 at all.
It reminds me of early eighties heavy metal in two way. One is style. They play heavier than hard rock, led by metal guitars and clean vocals, both of which like power. They also seem blissfully unaware of the existence of any form of extreme metal. In their way, they're what Sabbat might have been a decade earlier. As it is, they remind of early Cloven Hoof, Brocas Helm or Ostrogoth, bands who gallop along in their own way without reaching levels of self-parody of Virgin Steele or Manowar. They'd play well with Raven.
The other is the way that they're so confident and unashamed about playing clearly unfashionable music. I don't just mean the spandex clad stereotype that leaps easily to mind but the folk elements that are inherent to their sound. They conjure up ideas of neanderthal drummers who go morris dancing on the weekends. Think miniature Stonehenge sets not wolfskin loincloths.
Of course, this would be a glorious moment to burst that bubble by pointing out that Scalzi is, by day, a college professor who lectures in philosophy, and it's easy to catch unusually thoughtful lyrics in these songs. Just dig beneath the surface and those clichés start to, well, slough away to reveal something a lot more intelligent than it initially seems.
For instance, there's a song here called Coming of Age in the Milky Way; I presume that it's based on the book by Timothy Ferris that explores how the human race has historically seen the cosmos. Certainly the album title is a reference to Francis Bacon and his 1620 volume, Novum Organum, that updated Aristotelian logic during the Enlightenment. You know, that old metal standard.
Did Spinal Tap ever wax lyrical on subjects like Being and Nothingness or Discourse on Equality, let alone The Cynic? Scalzi's totally at home here. "My friend Diogenes," he sings, "lost all sense of shame." I should point out that you need no background in philosophy or even know how to spell it to enjoy this album and it's far from a treatise. Slough Feg once recorded Traveller, a concept album about an sf RPG. They really don't care about being cool; they care about being good.
And I enjoyed this, perhaps because I'm as unfashionable as they are. They play seriously and consistently and there's a lot here to delve into beyond the lyrics. For all the guitar solos and galloping rhythms, there's plenty of folk music here, Headhunter and The Apology being but two overt examples before Exegesis/Tragic Hooligan goes beyond them. Coming of Age is an oddly Caribbean metal song and The Cynic arrives from a wild alternate universe: the vocals convey a sort of Tiger Lillies cautionary tale vibe, just not in falsetto, while the music behind it is a lot like Thin Lizzy attempting a Richie Valens song.
This admirable variety means that it's hard to pick favourites because this song may leap out on a first listen but that one does on a second and hey, that pair on a third. I think Being and Nothingness is mine for right now, even though it's almost the shortest song on offer. It's also arguably the speediest, galloping along with the drums and bass providing the hooves of horses while the guitars add their neighing. It's a delightful song and it finishes too quickly.
So does the album, but at least there are nine previous ones for me to seek out!