Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Florida man gets divorced, writes sludge-metal record. OK, so maybe that headline didn’t make the news. While divorce and separation have inspired countless classic country cuts, I think this second effort from Florida outfit Ether might be a first—the only sludge album dealing with marital breakdown. And yet, it makes perfect sense, since sludge is a medium mostly dedicated to personal pain and suffering. (Just listen to pretty much every song Kirk Windstein has ever written; hell, Eyehategod’s debut was called In the Name of Suffering!) And man, this record gets pretty bleak. “Inextricably Bound by the Absence of a Ring Finger” is my early pick for feel-good hit of the summer! 😉
After a disturbingly distorted intro kicks things off, mixing an old sad jazz song with a swath of guitar effects, “For Every Nail, a Noose” brings the sorrow right from the get-go with an opening breakdown that would bring a tear to ol’ Kirk’s eye. But this isn’t just eight minutes of Crowbar worship—around the 1:30 mark, a deeper goth-metal vocal (think Peter Steele) kicks in as the track takes a turn that’s equally melodic and melancholic. They wallow in the mire for a while, before getting back to the breakdowns around the midway mark, even more gut-wrenching than before. I think they even name-drop “Time Heals Nothing” in the lyrics. And they even throw in an old violin just past six minutes in, signalling a shift back toward goth-doom territory. Holy fuck!!!
“We Are the Empty Vessel Where Life Used to Be” is much shorter and more direct, with more Crowbar-style breakdowns and angry EHG vocals, this tune bordering on the death doom of Coffins or Winter, with the occasional guttural vocal thrown in for good measure. But that’s not to say it’s not without its own Pete Steele goth stylings, with an especially effective sorrowful passage kicking in around two minutes in. I’m not sure how one cognitively combines Crowbar and Type O Negative, but the results are simply stunning.
The aforementioned “Inextricably Bound” takes a different tack, with rugged acoustic guitar backing the deep-voiced mournful cries. They even throw in some flamenco-style licks, which are oddly effective, and more of that sad violin, too. You can practically taste the pain!
“No Gods, All Masters” is about the furthest thing from Discharge, as it leans heavily toward the gothic side of doom, complete with a poignant violin solo, before hitting you with a full-on death/doom assault right at the three-minute mark, albeit briefly, as a change of pace, before getting back into Crowbar territory with some crunchy sludge breakdowns. You’re never quite sure what to expect from one minute to the next—and within a somewhat stagnant subgenre, that’s certainly a good thing!
They take a turn toward more traditional doom with the 11-minute “Coke Rope,” delivered in the style of Warning or Pallbearer, albeit with tortured death-metal vocals (which don’t work as well here as the Peter Steele impression would have IMO). But there are still some shades of their other songs—a death-metal-style drumbeat here, a NOLA-style breakdown there. They seem to find the right vocal balance on the almost-as-lengthy “Ava Maria of the Lice, of the Snakes, of the Worms,” before “Fleas of a Rat” ends things on more of a NOLA note à la Crowbar, mixed with their own blend of gothic doom.
Fifty-five minutes, and hardly a dull moment—there is nothing left for me to say. A strong contender for album of the year, right here!