Slough Feg: Hardworlder CD

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Dropping the cumbersome “The Lord Weird” prefix was more than just a practical measure for Bay Area heavy metal outfit Slough Feg. The release of Atavism in 2005 revealed a symbolic aspect to the move, too; shedding many of their more progressive leanings and shying away (even more) from mainstream power metal sounds, Atavism gave birth to a leaner, more accessible Slough Feg, who could indulge frontman and guitarist Mike Scalzi’s fantasy and science fiction obsession without coming across completely arcane and cultish. At the same time, simplification seemed to come more difficultly than anticipated. Atavism, while occasionally brilliant, lacked the cohesion of earlier albums in terms of both style and quality: while the music continually made reference to the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, these influences rarely came together into a central identifiable “sound.”

While Hardworlder won’t do much to rein in fans alienated by Atavism’s drift away from fast and bombastic power metal, it is a much more focused and well-rounded effort. In contrast to the schizoid effect of Atavism, Hardworlder has a consistent sound which, while less original than their earlier material, at least gives the impression that the entire album is being performed by a single band. The album’s style clearly harks back to the formative days of heavy metal- Deep Purple, Saxon and UFO all come to mind- as well as early NWOBHM and the pioneering Gaelic rock groups Thin Lizzy and Horslips. The loss of two key band members, far from proving disruptive, seems to have helped solidified the band’s sound: the dual leads which Scalzi and new guitarist Angelo Tringali trade off are as compact and tuneful as anything in the band’s back catalogue, and relentlessly so; drummer Antoine Reuben-Diavola’s small kit and slower, chugging rhythms are a more appropriate fit than previous drummer Greg Haa’s more virtuosic approach; and Scalzi’s smoky baritone is more suited to the style than the Dickinson-like theatrics of earlier albums.

Musically, it appears as if Slough Feg are influenced primarily by Celtic rock rather than the folk styles which informed them. The disc includes a creditable cover of Horslips’ ‘Dearg Doom,’ while the sludgy ‘Karma-Kazee’ and the epic, acoustic guitar-driven ‘The Sea Wolf’ both bear the jigs n’ reels imprint Gaelic rock’s first band. Thin Lizzy’s presence can be felt more strongly in the twin-guitar melodies which punch through just about every track- ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ and ‘Galactic Nomads’ are particularly faithful to the source- and in the basic, primal beats which introduce a natural tension to the songs. Scalzi’s interests appear to be directed more toward folklore than folk music, and again ‘Dearg Doom’ is a useful reference point. ‘Dearg Doom,’ literally ‘Red Doom’ or ‘Red Destroyer,’ was written in reference to the great flame-haired Celtic warrior of myth Cúchulainn whose exploits were documented in the ‘Táin Bó Cuailgne.’ Scalzi has often made reference to the stories in his lyrics, authoring titles such as ‘Brave Connor Mac,’ ‘The Pangs Of Ulster’ and ‘Fergus Mac Róich,’ while the band itself is named after the villain of the comic book series Sláine, which is loosely based on The Táin.

The album’s sole black mark is the murky production. While the lead guitar tracks are uniformly clean and precise, less attention has been paid to the remainder of the mix. A doomy atmosphere detracts from the natural spirit and optimism of the music, sidelining bass (particularly) and drums, and sounding perhaps a little sludgier than it should. Minor complaints aside, Hardworlder may yet lay claim to the best album title in Slough Feg’s discography to date. (SputnikMusic)