For all of sludge metal’s myriad qualities, brevity has never been one of them. In its greatest moments, it’s frequently a genre that works best with slow movements and gradually unfolding passages of ascendant triumph. Standard bearers Neurosis rarely, if ever, issue an album that doesn’t cross the 60-minute mark, and their closest musical kin, the now-defunct Isis, often reached similar extremes. But that’s not to say it can’t be done. Mastodon, for one, do three-minute sludge better than just about anyone else, which no doubt speaks to their more widespread commercial success. But Zozobra, the New Mexico-based trio founded by Caleb Scofield (Cave In, Old Man Gloom), surely breaks some kind of record with their new six-track set, Savage Masters, which pounds and pummels the snot out of the listener in a swift 14 minutes and 59 seconds.
To clarify, Savage Masters is an album and not an EP — nobody’s saying otherwise anyhow — which on its face makes the set seem a little undercooked. After all, even Oxnard’s powerviolence torch-bearers Nails is able to cram 10 songs into 18 minutes. Yet Zozobra delivers these six tracks without any fat, filler or bullshit. It’s a lean album by design, forgoing any instrumentals or intros, ballads or ambient interludes in favor of 15 minutes of intense, in-the-red metal and post-hardcore that rips mightily and rocks heartily. Right off the bat the band tears into some blistering d-beat crust on “The Cruelest Cut,” hit a furiously sludgy groove on “Venom Hell,” boost their vile crunch with some honest-to-goodness hooks on “Deathless,” and unleash some high-pitched psychedelic effects in the awesome “Chorus of War.”
By the time Zozobra let their slow-moving chug reach its supremely heavy conclusion in “Born In a Blaze,” the record comes to an abrupt, screeching, bone-jostling halt. All it takes is a short breather and a brief assessment of the damage before diving back into it though. For all of the abrasion and power they harness on Savage Masters, Zozobra make a second round seem all the more appealing.
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.