The 19-track collection Reptilicus on Tsuguri Records serves not only as an overdue closing note from grinding North Carolinian sludgers Seven Foot Spleen, but also a reintroduction as well. The crusty five-piece, which featured in their ranks guitarist Chad Davis, who would go on to form Hour of 13 and play in US Christmas (as well as others), broke up after the release of their 1999 Tee Pee Records debut, Enter Therapy, which means it’s been at least a decade since they were last heard from, and in that time, the bands with whom they shared the stage – acts like Buzzov*en and Grief, for whom show fliers appear in the Reptilicus liner notes also featuring the Seven Foot Spleen logo – have been elevated to godlike influential status. Seven Foot Spleen don’t go back that far. They started in 1994, long enough to have heard Eyehategod and Grief 7” releases, but what separates Seven Foot Spleen is that their songs are (mostly) shorter, grippingly aggressive, and as much owed to crusty hardcore as to sludge, standing closer to that side of the line than that of doom or the other riffly metals.
Frontman Jon Cox has a throaty, consistent shout throughout these songs, recorded in various stages of the band between 1995 and 1998, and though Seven Foot Spleen seems to operate in different modes, either fast or slow – anger is a constant – Davis and fellow guitarist Chad Wyrick mostly lead the way. The production throughout most of Reptilicus is rough, the cymbals on “Power” (recorded in 1997) sound like a drum machine, though they’re credited to drummer Josh Martin, and there are times where bassists Scott Cline and Keith Bollck (who were in the band at separate times) are all but inaudible. But the raw sound is part of the charm of a release like this. If you heard Seven Foot Spleen before Reptilicus, then it’s a collection you’ll enjoy for the memories it brings up and for the wealth of previously unreleased material. If you’re a stranger to the band and a sludge-head, you’ll dig it for the now-vintage sound.
More than anything, what Reptilicus has on its side is that it’s nasty. On the quicker, more blasting cuts like the 58-second “Canopener Head” (recorded in 1996 and released on the Boredom & Disease 7”), Seven Foot Spleen sound as mean as any of the sludge bands you could want to put in front of them, including Eyehategod, a similar raw Southern nihilism coming through the material that’s only bolstered by the production. On the more stoner-riffed “It Smells,” the groove comes through gorgeously and holds up the ideal that the best sludge is a turnoff for most people. Seven Foot Spleen do an excellent job of bridging the gap between Sabbathian doom and hardcore crossover, and they’re very much of their day, which isn’t going to be a negative for fans of the genre who’ve worshipped at the feet of Take as Needed for Pain and To a Frown for however long. A flow is pretty much out of the question in terms of listening to Reptilicus as a single album, but taken as a collection of rare, previously unheard and representative tracks, the 51-minute runtime is well spent.
Unheralded sludge grinders like Cavity, Exit 13 and Seven Foot Spleen didn’t necessarily get the same kind of play or distribution as the aforementioned sludge forebears, but when I hear “Leecheater” off Reptilicus, I’m just as glad to be hearing it as I am anything those other bands have done. The music is challenging, abrasive and, again, mean as hell, but it’s a suitable document of a band who never got their due, and given the resurgent interest in sludge the last couple years, should have no problem being welcomed by the modern scene. Especially for its unreleased material and capturing the band at their rawest and most natural-sounding, Seven Foot Spleen’s Reptilicus is an underground highlight and a wakeup call for anyone who never got into the band the first time around. File it right next to the classics of the genre.North Carolina, Seven Foot Spleen, Tsuguri Records