On their latest album Illumine, Maggot Brain has delivered their long awaited follow up to their phenomenal full length debut Stop and Breathe. This album clearly sees the band moving away from pure sludge metal and post-hardcore, experimenting with the stoner of Sleep, the prog of Isis, and the great early work of popular sludge band (now who knows what to call em) Mastodon. However, all the old fervor and brutality of their former albums and singles are still heavy in the mix. Maggot Brain is clearly growing and developing, experimenting with the dozens of metal genres that have evolved over its fifty year history (even NWOBHM believe it or not).
One thing that hasn’t changed is the uncompromising vocals, especially of lead singer Mike Hait. Despite the increased use of melody, riffs, effects, and lulling passages from the rest of the band, all vocals from all contributing members are still painfully screamed without mercy, vanity, or anything approaching the more commercial side of sludge and stoner metal you might hear on the radio. This may be after all what sets Maggot Brain completely apart from their peers, the unyielding in your face post-hardcore throat straining vocals that remind one of Steve Von Till of Neurosis, but only when he fuckin screams. Also it probably should be mentioned these guys are clearly influenced by forty years of local hardcore and metal scenes, spanning hundreds of bands that most of us have never heard of (though we’d be happy to trade 7 inches of the ones we have). And as usual, the beautifully sorrowful doom/noise passages that show how little they care for ‘staying in their lanes’ and differentiate them from so many other metal bands that refuse to grow or change.
This album was clearly layered by the band, moving from relatively laid back (though portentous of doom of course) to full driving madness and back again several times through the course of the record. As soon as you’re lifted up and driven on, they unexpectedly bring you back down to the ‘pit of despair’ in split seconds. And then back up just as quickly.
The record begins with a harsh though low noisey passage (somewhat similar to their previous album which began with a short buddhist throat chant), which segues into a wailing stoner riff with a beautiful echo delay that keeps the noise in the mix. Death metal/metalcore vocals, bass and drums join the mix for what’s clearly a far more laid back song then Maggot Brain’s produced before. Spiraling is a triumph of noise and stoner metal that could be a radio hit if not for all its spikey edges. It ends with a sludgey, almost grunge riff.
Sharp Teeth builds the momentum with drummer Jared Krak double kicking, Sean Fortune’s grinding bass lines and Ryan Slowey’s palm muted riffs; the typical fare I’ve come to expect from Maggot Brain. It builds to a galloping wail, all the while post-hardcore/grind vocals from both lead and backing vocals of Hait, Slowey and Fortune. Then ends on a doom note, shouting vocals fading out into noise. Lyrics are brutally unsentimental and, like much death metal, make frequent reference to body parts and the scar tissue that forms over emotional suffering.
As the Crow flies is straight sludge/post-grind at full driving clicks. Aptly so given the lyrical content references the envisioned Christian resurrection, rejecting any notions of heavenly fare offered, instead riding into the sun “to burn in the flames forever”. Halfway through the song slows to the progressive sludge and nihilistic sound of turn of the century Neurosis.
The Beast again gallops. The lyrics are the stereotypically ominous, almost prophesizing. Recognizable as being influenced by Neurosis, but also possibly Black Flag (Neurosis began after all as a fairly straight hardcore band). By now the tone and speeds of the record are clear. If you love it by now, you’re gonna love the rest. If you don’t, well fuck you then.
Illumine is the track that stands out on the record. Seguing noise/doom passages reminiscent of Isis lead up to proggy metal style jamming. The vocals join, way low in the mix. Lyrics are impenetrable and clearly very personal. This is clear doom to show the band’s not finished experimenting with any genre they like.
By Paradise Hill, the influence of both Neurosis and early Mastodon comes barreling in, rushing without mercy nor sentimentality. This song is almost catchy in its soaring chord progression, preceded and ante by the driving sludge Maggot Brain’s known for.
And then another left turn into The Sea which is practically Slayer/NWOBHM style hyper blues/metal, followed by those soaring noise metal passages I personally love.
The album ends with Eidolon, the track where Isis’ influence is most clearly heard. The whole song is like an ode to that sickly sweet prog/doom, battered of course by the vicious vocals.
Overall, this record is certainly not as stark or immediately ear catching as their 2012 effort. It’s a record that grows on you and digs its bloody claws into your mind slowly, churning with the ages of a thousand thousand metal and hardcore bands that add their influences into the mix. Maggot Brain is clearly transitioning and experimenting. I can’t wait to hear where they go next.