“Doom” and “sludge” have become somewhat interchangeable terms for slow, dread-ridden heavy metal. The difference between the two may seem pedantic, especially given that the terms were applied retroactively to nearly all of the bands now considered to be founders of the subgenres. In the 2020s, the “doom” or “sludge” tag is increasingly self-applied, as an ethos as well as an aesthetic, by bands who create oppressive, cathartic music intended as a reflection of our dismal times. Such are the three bands – Body Void, SERAC, and Everlasting Light – playing Davenport's Raccoon Motel (315 East Second Street) on Friday, December 8.
These groups form a grim sonic triptych, drawing mutual inspiration from environmental degradation, a simultaneously dysfunctional yet increasingly oppressive society, and the inevitable and inexorable despair that sets in as the endless road grows ever darker.
In 1966, the freighter SS Daniel J. Morrell split in half on Lake Huron, chewed like a bone by one of those feared gales of November. While its survivors sheltered on the still-floating bow, the ship's stern came roaring out of the frigid gloom, its still-running engine sending it on a collision course with the horrified crew. In his Great Lakes Shipwrecks & Survivals, William Ratigan described the impossible apparition as moving “like a great wounded beast with its head shot off,” vanishing into the deadly night with only one man surviving to tell the ghastly tale.
Our society has become a disembodied monster in much the same way, with the greed, ill will, and indifference of the powerful metastasizing into an uncontrollable force that threatens to consume and destroy humanity itself. Body Void have harnessed these thoughts of unlimited horror and distilled them into one of the best metal albums of 2023, an unrelenting tour de force of churning riffs and terse but evocative lyrics.
As driving wheel Willow Ryan put it to J. D. Malley of Echoes and Dust: “Atrocity Machine was basically meant to be a horror movie soundtrack for late stage capitalism.” They elaborated further to Bandcamp's Brad Sanders. “We have the doom metal foundation, but let’s see where we can push the limits of that … . [I]t’s almost like we’re using doom metal to do something different than doom metal.”
Part of that approach involves incorporating synths and electronics into their rock-solid doom rumble. In the past, this largely took the form of a curious, ominous hissing, like steam escaping from the coal mines that blaze eternally under doomed, abandoned Centralia, Pennsylvania. On Atrocity Machine, the electronics are much more smoothly integrated with the pummeling riffs, while simultaneously exploring new sounds and textures.
Lyrically, “[It’s about] the sensation of living with this cognitive dissonance of, ‘This is all happening, and it’s horrible, but you still have to live with it,’” Ryan told Bandcamp. They take special aim at the way mass media helps to cruelly cheapen human life: “ … things [are] presented in these ways. Like a game show, like a TV show, very American-entertainment-style. What is it like to live with that stuff, day-to-day? … You have to sort of play tricks on yourself to deal with it.” For a taste: “‘Cop Show’ in particular is about how Americans treat police violence as entertainment.”
SERAC describe themselves as a “Gross amalgam of sludge and noise rock with environmentally tinged lyrics.” Their EP title Waging War Against the Prairie speaks for itself. Their songs are far more concise but just as spiritually heavy as Body Void's. Everlasting Light's minimalist, guitar-and-drums black metal shares Body Void's affinity for noise, provided by the tortured vocals and occasional saxophone squall of frontman Rush Falknor. Doors open at 7 p.m., with the show beginning at 8 p.m.
Ragged Records (311 East Second Street) are sponsoring the December 8 spectacle, as well as a comparatively lighthearted event the following weekend at their new Davenport digs. They're holding an “After Hours Sale” and Holiday Party from 6 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 16, together with longtime shopmates Trash Can Annie. All records will be 10-percent off and any of Annie's vintage clothing and paraphernalia will be 30-percent off (with shoe-punched tags). Free musical entertainment will be provided by Camp Regret and Watermelon.
Camp Regret manage to balance ice-cold, dissonant post-punk with upbeat rock and roll, rolling an even split between dramatic and fun. Watermelon play fast, fun and to-the-point songs about social trouble, fast food, Ritalin, and shitty people – scope the shining diss track “Johnny Ramone.” If you're not looking to shop, channel your inner Costanza and set up a lawn chair in the store, but don't spill your sandwich on the merchandise, lest ye be forever banished from the eastern bloc of Second Street.