They’re from New Orleans, they play sludge, and they’re friends with Philip Anselmo, but they’re not EyeHateGod and they’re not Crowbar. Housecore Records upstarts haarp (properly written sans capitalization and with the double-A, much to the chagrin of Microsoft Word’s autocorrect function) make their full-length debut with The Filth, an aptly-titled hour of sludgy malevolence, more modernly metallic than the prior-mentioned Nola outfits, and capped off with brutal (again, in the metal sense) vocals courtesy of Shaun Emmons, who fronts the old-school single-guitar four-piece with a three-layer approach: high screams, mid-range gutteral bellows and low growls. Across The Filth’s nine tracks, he’s consistently a focal point, but there’s room left for the riffs of Grant Tom as well. It seems haarp are interested mostly in being as heavy and as loud as possible at all times.
That isn’t an approach I’m about to degrade. It works for haarp, and from the start of the album with “The Rise, the Fall” (companioned by closer, “The Fall, the Rise”), they prove they’re good at it. Doesn’t do much for dynamics, but haarp leave changing tempos to handle most of that, drummer Keith Sierra Jr. seeming to land no less heavily on his kit when playing slow or fast, and bassist Ryan Pomes opening The Filth highlight “A New Reign” with deeply metallic rumble. There are some flashes of melody in Tom’s guitar work on that track, and on the closer, but they’re mostly swallowed in the wall of noise brought out in the production, which makes the overall haarp sound engulfing. Scott Hull mastered The Filth and Housecore’s engineer-in-residence David “The Puma” Troia recorded with Anselmo himself credited as producer, so the band comes out of it sounding clear and full, though Emmons’ vocals are disproportionally high in the mix at times. A cut like nine-minute centerpiece “Peerless” dominates, but listening, I can hear the mute at the end of each rhythmic snippet of screaming, and it distracts me from the music surrounding.
Still, it’s plain to hear what drew Anselmo — who produced the first couple Crowbar records, way back when — to the band in the first place. Their sound is full of the raw aggression essential to successful sludge, and they come across suitably viscous on The Filth. The songs show some similarity of approach between them, but never give into full-on redundancy, and with the Paul Booth album art feeling into it, the atmosphere haarp create is destructive, menacing and violent. Most doom doesn’t get a pit; I wouldn’t be surprised if this does. Even the drum interlude “Minutia,” with sees Sierra paint a quick groove to lead into “Here in the Dark,” gives off a tension that’s palpable, and the payoff is a murderous feel in the ensuing riffs and hits. With Emmons so much the focus, however, there’s a lot riding on his performance. He’s a more than capable screamer in his various executions, but one hopes the music will be pushed forward to stand up to his extremity on subsequent offerings.
With that in mind, there isn’t much The Filth sets out to do that it doesn’t accomplish, and the gang backing vocals on “Plurimus Humilus, Ciacco” late in the album are a welcome surprise. Those attracted to the heavier end of sludge – as opposed to the more biting, hardcore-influenced side that has seemed to gain favor over the last several years – will find much to enjoy from haarp. There’s a monstrous aspect to what they do, and when they lumber, they really do it. The record isn’t redefining sludge, but if the genre hasn’t seemed metal enough to you lately, they’re certainly doing their part to address the issue. It’s a worthy cause, and nothing haarp are saying either musically or vocally (though some of the lyrics leave something to be desired) feels like it doesn’t need to be said. They’re an unrelentingly pummeling sludge outfit, worthy of whatever attention they get. I hope they stay this heavy.haarp, Housecore Records, Louisiana, New Orleans