Heron – Empires of Ash

Vancouver quartet, Heron, can claim Primitive Man, Pallbearer and Conan as former touring buddies, which should give you an indication of their sound. They play slow doom chords and growling basslines and utilise nerve-shredding screams for their vocals. It’s nothing new, but that does not make it irrelevant. Sludge metal bands need no special pleading – they exist; therefore, they are.

Now on their third album, Heron slipped in their sophomore effort during the first covid lockdown but used the remainder of that strange year (and the one after it) to position their sound closer to the void. Opener, ‘Rust and Rot’ is about as much fun as a visit to A&E in England, but that’s the point. The high-tuned snares and fuzzy guitar distortion bite like snakes and reverberate with feedback underneath every ringing note. Ross Redeker’s hysterical vocal shrieks save it from mediocrity, but nine minutes is a long time to stretch out a song using only three riffs throughout the entire composition. Do we need one minute and thirty-two seconds of aimless guitar meandering at the beginning of ‘The Middle Distance’? Again, only the screams stop it from regressing into a stoner metal snooze when the distorted guitars enter the mix.

“Life is overwhelming,” screams Redeker on ‘Hauntology’. This one is livelier and less concerned with finding the perfect ground to pitch a tent. The riffs ricochet in the mix and throb like analogue machines given one last function before they die. You can tolerate the two-minute intro of clean guitars here because they lead to a tangible end point. And something happens at the midway section of this record. The band remember to entertain. ‘Hungry Ghosts’ rocks like Led Zeppelin and roars like Urne. Both guitarists have fun talking to each other through open note chugging as if writing a fugue but forgetting to include a melody. It reminds you how important the hardcore element is to the identity of sludge metal. These songs would be much more innocuous without the raw screaming.

Closing track, ‘With Dead Eyes’, comes a little late in the album to disrupt your status quo. That’s the dilemma with Heron – there’s nothing to dislike, but there’s nothing extraordinary, either. They do what you expect them to do and throw in a few surprises to keep you onboard. Listen to the development of the asymmetric guitar parts in the different channels – very clever. This music is more sophisticated than it appears, but will you have the motivation to sit through it more than twice? Probably not unless sludge metal is your thing.

Heron could write another album like this in twelve months, and it might sound identical. But then again, they could incorporate more punk rock, more drone, more grind, more post-rock – the possibilities to expand on their foundations leave you hopeful they will continue to evolve.



Release Date: 02/12/2022

Record Label: Sludgelord Records

Standout tracks: Hauntology, Hungry Ghost, With Dead Eyes

Suggested Further Listening: Gnash – Shared Nightmare EP (2022), Swamp Coffin – Noose Almighty (2021), Existence Dysphoria – Minus Negative (2022)