Milton Keynes might be the birthplace of prog metal heavyweights like Tesseract and Monuments, but the town of brutalist architecture and red-brick housing can add a new name to the list of metal heroes. That name is Tuskar, a duo who Employed to Serve’s Sammy Urwin discovered last year before signing them to his label, Church Road Records. Matriarch came out in February, and you’re right to ask why SBR’s review is nearly two months after the event. The answer is simple – life got in the way, but we couldn’t ignore this mammoth debut.
England’s sludge scene has always been strong since the emergence of Iron Monkey in the late 1990s, but the contemporary likes of Urne and Mastiff can take credit for expanding it far beyond the original hardcore take on doom metal. Tuskar belong in the same bracket as these titans, and you might even call their music progressive metal despite their stoner/doom roots. They’re not short of self-belief, either. How else do you explain the prospect of a twelve-minute minimalist opener with sporadic bursts of vocal fury? The brooding intro of ‘Matriarch’ will remind you of labelmates, Blodet, in the way it builds on an eerie guitar reverberation and careful drum accents. You know a full transition to distortion will arrive, yet the explosion at 02:48 seconds hits you like a hurricane despite you tensing every muscle in your body for the impact. The floor will shake beneath you when the bassist steps on the overdrive pedal. Yikes! Imagine if Tangerine Dream composed a doom metal song. One can only imagine the audio discomfort this will create on a live stage.
As a progressive band, Tuskar value that one thing other artists could learn from – variation. Seven songs of gut-wrenching post-metal would be tolerable but exhausting, yet the Buckinghamshire duo make it their mission to ensure no two tracks sound the same. ‘To the Sky’ starts with smooth China splashes and expressive hammer-on/pull-off passages before gearing up into a Mastodon blitz of bass-heavy riffing and ferocious throat ululations. It’s successor, ‘The Trees, The Trees, The Trees’, goes back to the glory of Jane’s Addiction and Smashing Pumpkins circa 1990 for its psychedelic alt-rock textures. Your mind will conjure images of silhouettes and pastel flowers and babbling brooks. How many bands can change the mood without changing the flow or identity of the record?
There’s a reason why sludge bands often find themselves on the same bill as grindcore artists – the music is insanely heavy. ‘Into the Sea’ is like Neurosis with an arsenal of momentous riffs that would not be out of place on a Horndal record. At times, they resemble an instrumental band with sporadic vocal outbursts, yet the vicious hardcore pipes at the four-minute mark are more intense than a Phil Anselmo interview. Did this band once waste time and effort in writing stoner metal? There’s no evidence of this lackadaisical approach in ‘Halcyon Guilt’, which uses Tool’s Lateralus as its source inspiration but weaves a composition beholden to nobody. Listen how the rapid-note rotations bubble at the surface as the vocals opt for a brave lung-cleansing of baritone roars. Whoa!
Matriarch is a fine album that ends with as much vigour and vitriol as its early triumphs. They even repeat a chorus in ‘Shame’ once they emancipate beyond the melodic post-rock. End track, ‘Grave’, will put you in a grave. There’s no procrastinating here – the chest-bursting sludge metal erupts from the first note. These boys know how to lay on the head-banging thrash and the hip-swaying groove riffs as if the two are interchangeable. Of course, every single moment is ugly and delicious in its severity.
England has a new name on the progressive metal scene, and they’re heavier than the bill for a night out in Central London. Matriarch could benefit from a couple more anthems, but that will come on the next record. This one does more than enough to satiate your appetite.
Release Date: 25/02/2022
Record Label: Church Road Records
Standout tracks: To the Sky, Halcyon Guilt, Into the Sea
Suggested Further Listening: Mastiff – Leave Me the Ashes of the Earth (2021), Absent in Body – Plague God (2022), Erdve – Savigaila (2021)