English sludge metal beasts, Battalions, ended the 2010s with great momentum and three albums to their name between 2016 and 2018. The line-up survived the disruption and threat to livelihoods of Covid-19 with only drummer, Matt Walker, leaving the group in this difficult period. Now on album number four, the quartet welcome new sticksman, Simon Harrison, and feel re-energised after hiring the services of Joe Clayton (Pijn) to produce their latest record. They always had an addictive groove to the mean sound of their hardcore-infused metal, but King of a Dead World is not afraid to go back to the Led Zeppelin classics for inspiration.
The world would be a dangerous place if the stoners of our society experienced a trip like the one blasted through the walls by Battalions. They might use Black Sabbath as inspiration, but the ugly scream vocals and punk rock grit remind you that sludge metal is at its purest when doom and hardcore collide. Opener, ‘Green Boots’, can compete with Famyne in the colossal doom-groove of intense air guitar that takes hold of your hands after just thirty seconds. Few bands use pentatonic rocks scales without sending you to sleep, but the Hull quartet deliver their hooks like vigilantes dishing out the harsh medicine to the pimps and pushers that bedevil their neighbourhood. Listen to the shrill desperation of Phil Wilkinson’s scream vocals – do they pulsate with the same vigour as Kate S. Davies from Pupil Slicer? The Led Zeppelin meets Suffocation breakdown here defies the boundaries of what you can and cannot do in heavy music.
Of course, the riff is king on this record, and Battalions show great wisdom in avoiding unnecessary extravagance. ‘Coughing Nails’ is as mean as its title suggests. ‘Diagnosis Fucked’ is the type of drop-tuned charge designed for the spinning head brigade. They might crank up the fuzz, but the chunky palm-muted rhythms spewing from the amps of Phil Cross are just as much Soilent Green as Electric Wizard. You might even detect shades of Pantera’s ‘Five Minutes Alone’ in the wild masculine aggression. When was the last time you heard a monstrous beatdown in a stoner metal haze like the one Battalions produce on ‘No Safe Place’? Might they be on the verge of an absurd new micro-genre called brutal stoner metal?
Perhaps the biggest surprise of King of a Dead World is its orgasmic rock entanglement of colossal pentatonic riffing with the misery of Eyehategod’s weltanschauung. Your body wants to slump under the weight of oppression on ‘Parasite’, but your blood levels demand a gesture of excitement to celebrate the circular groove of the guitars. The closing title-track dispenses with its stoner metal foundations and aims for Conan’s sonic doom to jar on your collar bone. It might surprise you how morbid they become on this last cut with no concern for your health or theirs. How can you dislike something as heavy and as unsentimental as this from four northerners?
You wouldn’t expect four men from Hull to be wild optimists, and Battalions will win no prizes as great motivators, but their art aches with candour and throbs with mental health tribulations that speak to you through their music as much as their lyrics. Who would want to be the ruling elite in a dead world? That is a question that seems even more pertinent in an era of disillusionment with democratic politics and the likelihood of grim economic prospects around the corner. Let this album be a warning and a reminder that you must find something to enjoy when everything else looks bleak.
Release Date: 21/10/2022
Record Label: APF Records
Standout tracks: Green Boots, Diagnosis Fucked, No Safe Place
Suggested Further Listening: Voidgazer – Dance of the Undesirables (2021), Conan – Evidence of Immortality (2022), Dreadbeggar – Sludgefuck Blues (2021)