There were a few clear winners in the 2022 end of year lists. Blind Guardian and Ghost topped two lists each. Messa made it onto nine different lists. Ozzy Osbourne managed seven, three of them top tens, marking a notable return to form. I'd reviewed three of those already and caught up with the fourth last week, but the other two bands who made it onto seven lists are ones I let slip by. In both instances, they also made four top tens and three top fives and topped one list, so there's an impressively broad acclaim for both of them. They're Chat Pile and Undeath, both American but a long way apart in genre.
Undeath play death metal out of Rochester, New York and It's Time... to Rise from the Grave was a second album for them, but Chat Pile, from Oklahoma City, are on their debut with God's Country, and that's just enough edge to prioritise them for me this January. They call what they play noise rock, though enough fans and zines have described them as sludge metal for that to stick too. I'm happy to go with noise rock, because this feels like a heavy form of alt rock to me, rather than any metal genre moving the other way, even at their heaviest on a song like Tropical Beaches, Inc.
Certainly the influences seem to be more from the rock side of the fence, even if some have fairly called out Godflesh. They're also more from the American side of the pond, even though Godflesh are English. The obvious comparison is the Jesus Lizard, especially with such a prominent bass, but all the proto-sludge bands are here, from the Melvins onward. These songs are mostly slow, with a thoroughly dominant bassline and a tortured vocal from a singer who's three slices into his wrists because everything about the world sucks but he's not quite sure if he's really committed to killing himself. "This is the sound of your world collapsing" chants Raygun Busch on Anywhere and that's a fair description of his band.
That's the core sound, but there are exceptions sitting on either side of it. Tropical Beaches, Inc. is the heavy song, with monstrous drums setting a much more frantic pace. I Don't Care If I Burn isn't far off spoken word, with a subtle beat and a weird sound effect driven backdrop that reminded of Tom Waits's What's He Building? It's utterly minimal, though Busch's emotional outpouring remains paramount. "You weren't supposed to see this," he screams at us on grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg, and it's hard not to believe him. He's certainly magnetic, a riven soul bared to the universe.
The song that stands out the most is the one that combines those three elements and that's Why. It's built on a slow and sludgy riff from guitarist Luther Manhole and underpinned by bassist Stin, with Cap'n Ron's cavernous drums matched by the repeated title so well that we keep chanting it even when Busch isn't, so he can veer off onto a spoken word rant. He's not delivering lyrics, he's just struck by the ramifications that spring from the very existence of homeless people and so he rages at the inhumanity of it all for three minutes and thirty one seconds. To be fair, he's probably still going, even after we moved onto the next song and the next.
And whether you're going to like this album or not is going to depend on whether you're eager to dive into an album described as above or whether you know you're not going to touch it even with someone else's ten foot pole. There are some subtleties if you care, like the Joy Division vibe that starts out Pamela, but there aren't a lot of them. This isn't a subtle album and the people who are likely to love it the most aren't likely to be interested in subtleties. I like subtleties so this isn't my sort of thing, but it's done well and I can see why it impressed certain critics. If you're a fan of the Jesus Lizard, add at least a point to my rating and maybe two.