Brighton sci-fi sludge lords, Wallowing, are an unforgettable live act. Each band member wears a black beekeeper mask and trilby with a fluorescent green chest torch. Their artwork and lyrical concepts mark them out as a blackened-sludge equivalent of Voivod, but their noisy doom-mongering and harsh feedback sounds put them in a category of their own. The quintet released their debut album in 2019 and premiered two songs from their latest record at last year’s Tombstone Takeover festival in Stevenage, where Scream Blast Repeat noted how ‘the empty pint glasses on the tables in front shake underneath the bass fuzz.’ Now signed to Church Road Records, they remain as enigmatic and as unforgiving as ever. You should have no problem digesting the forty-four minutes of this LP.
Think of the music to Earth Reaper as an alternate ending to the 1979 Alien film where the android, Ash, murders the heroine, Ripley, and brings a savage xenomorph creature back to earth for scientists to study. The hostile guitar drones and oxygen-deprived screams could be the dying pleas of the Nostromo cargo crew as their SOS signals fall on deaf ears. Listen how the nasty sludge metal chords of ‘Flesh and Steel’ fight for freedom among a maelstrom of black metal shrieks and bass-heavy oscillations. The switch to a mid-tempo momentum at 00:35 bites with death metal tremolo fills and dissonant dyad chords like a control room in meltdown. Imagine Conan attempting to replicate the filthy grind of Mastiff. It’s as ugly as an infant xenomorph with horseshoe crab features and a penchant for impregnating its eggs in human stomachs.
The grimy transgressions of ‘Cries of Estima’ appear to be nothing more than a swampy doom metal calling on first listen. A second attempt to dissect this song reveals a sophistication beyond its caveman foundations. Spasms of grindcore erupt at 03:20 and then settle into an uncomfortable downbeat as vocalist, Zak Duffield, gasps for breath in an agony of stomach ulcers. You can hear an atonal black metal angle towards the end as the band exhaust their energy reserves like panicked space crew losing hope of a safe return to earth.
This record may display seven songs on your streaming dashboard, but three of them are thirty-second interlude pieces to prepare you for the next fustigation. The last two – ‘Cyborg Asphyxiation’ and ‘Earth Reaper’ – clock in at a combined thirty-two minutes. You have every reason to be intimidated by the prospect. The former is a grinding sludge affair with staccato drum accents in place of kick beats for most of the first six minutes before they steer the ship towards a strange pentatonic form of black metal with sporadic mathcore fills. A composition over twenty-one minutes will seldom be an easy sell to the listener, and Wallowing struggle to justify how the title track should stretch beyond fifteen minutes. It starts with a surprise exploration of melodic guitars atop a background of low-volume radio static and threatens to nod off in a doom metal hospice until they turn it into a Black Sabbath rock affair with Mayhem’s anti-music sentiments. Occasional geysers of frantic noise permeate through the slowest parts, but the fact they need three minutes of ringing guitar drones to transition to the punk-infested sludge at 16:40 shows how difficult it can be to stay in gear for such a long expedition of audio vandalism.
We waited four years for it to arrive, and Earth Reaper does not disappoint. You won’t forget the Wallowing name even if the last ten minutes of this album feel like a state of extreme dehydration. But you already know that this story ends in catastrophe and death, right?
Release Date: 28/04/2023
Record Label: Church Road Records
Standout tracks: Flesh and Steel, Cries of Estima, Cyborg Asphyxiation
Suggested Further Listening: Autokrator – Persecution (2021), Hierophant – Death Siege (2022), Onhou – Monument (2022)