One need not dive too deeply into the thick and murky waters of sludge metal before hitting some inhumanly epic, psychedelic creations. Somewhere around the time Neurosis transitioned from hardcore to a massive metal beast and Melvins offered up the single-track album Lysol, the barriers to just how sprawling a work of low-end rumble and harrowing doom excursions can be were removed, offering an implicit challenge to metal’s grimiest, most gut-wrenching artists to engage in a competition of sorts to extend their drop-D thunder as far as it will go. Based on the collective careers of Electric Wizard, Neurosis, Isis and Boris, the winner is clearly the listener. But you can also add Arkansas’ Rwake to that list, their latest album for Relapse, Rest, treading its own idiosyncratic and exploratory terrain in an already broad field.
The six-track Rest spans a hefty 52 minutes, with tracks one and five comprising only two and a half of those 52, leaving the remaining four with an average length of about 12 minutes. Everything on Rest is huge, and everything on it is likewise melodically compelling, taking the template of Neurosis-style atmospheric sludge and washing it with illicit, hallucinatory chemicals. It yields something truly strange and sometimes terrifying, but always heavy, and rarely anything less than awesome.
By introducing the album with 90 seconds of trippy folk in “Souls of the Sky,” Rwake signals early that Rest is not a metal album that conforms too closely to any strict conventions. But the band makes it quite clear that this is metal on “It Was Beautiful But Now It’s Sour,” and not just metal, but slow, crushing, disorienting and nonetheless highly innovative metal at that. Through the song’s nearly 12 minutes, the band treads through a dense and molasses-thick miasma, offering up dazzling guitar harmonies and a keenly eerie sense of melody. The comparatively brief (at just shy of nine minutes!) “An Invisible Thread” is somewhat more immediate, slightly less atmospheric, but every bit as devastating. “The Culling,” meanwhile, introduces its meaty 16 minutes with the ominous sounds of chiming bells and spoken word verse. And in the minutes that follow, Rwake spin an elegant and spectral progression of ethereal arpeggios, slowly giving way to what ultimately becomes a dark prog-rock journey punctuated with distorted screams.
The final track on Rest, “Was Only a Dream” is the most dazzling of the album’s four gigantic compositions, opening with the most curiously catchy riffs in the entire 52-minute span of the album and descending into an intense but melodic experience in disorienting catharsis. It’s a perfect summation of the band’s strengths, revealing both a penchant for viciously punishing sounds and carefully crafted structures. It’s a dizzying visceral exercise, certainly, but if you let it, Rest can also be a mesmerizing aesthetic experience as well.
Neurosis – Through Silver In Blood
Cult of Luna – Salvation
Tombs – Path of Totality
Stream: Rwake – “An Invisible Thread”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.