Creative neo-sludge trio Shroud Eater emerge from the swamp of their Miami homeland with their first full-length, the self-released ThunderNoise. The album, available digitally or in a limited run of 100 self-stamped digipaks put together with lyric sheets by the band themselves, is 11 tracks/44 minutes of modern sub-melodic upbeat sludge, not too dissimilar from Kylesa or, in parts, High on Fire, but distinguished from those groups by a rawer feel and less thrash or classic metal influence, Shroud Eater seem to draw more from the tonal well of Helmet and the ‘90s school of thickened noise rock. Vocals are kept mostly to shouts, with a few exceptions, and ThunderNoise has a couple turns on it that stave off redundancy, Their 2009 Shroud Eater EP was grittier sounding, but the trio haven’t lost any of their immediacy on the long player, and ThunderNoise is every bit as vital.
The three tracks from Shroud Eater’s Shroud Eater – “We are Beasts,” “Vesuvius” and “Cyclone” – show up on ThunderNoise in re-recorded versions, palpable changes audible in the vocals of guitarist Jeannie Saiz and in the drum work of Felipe Torres. Torres has an unfortunate snare sound that cuts through more on some stereos than others — really came out in my car, but isn’t so bad on the office computer, despite still kicking through “Shark Valley” – but on the songs with vocals, they take away from it. The drum sound in general is my major production gripe; Torres’ tom-work on opener “High John the Conqueror” sounds thin and doesn’t come across naturally as it should. Saiz’s guitar and the bass of Janette Valentine make up for a lot of ground, but there’s no doubt ThunderNoise would be even heavier with better drum recording. Not the end of the world, by any stretch. You can still get a sense of what Shroud Eater is going for sound-wise in the songs, and it’s not like basement black metal recorded into a Fisher Price tape recorder, where it’s raw past the point of being listenable, it’s just something worth noting.
Interestingly, while the songs with Saiz’s vocals are mostly straightforward noise/sludge with “We the Beast,” the more Floor-like “Baying of Jackals” and “Sinister Hunt” as highlights in that regard, it’s on ThunderNoise’s several instrumentals that the band does some of their most engaging work. The post-centerpiece “Oubliette” finds Shroud Eater taking on heavy Mastodon-style prog noodling and blending it with driving stoner riffs, and the late-album interlude “Hands That Prey” is a minute of effected light guitar strum that not only sets up vicious closer “Pale Rider,” but also gives ThunderNoise an ambience and thoughtfulness that until then it simply didn’t have. These subtle flourishes of sound speak to complexity to come from Shroud Eater, while at the same time, the head-down pummel of “Descent from the Summit” – Torres’ double-kick working overtime – ensures they’re not about to lose sight of the heavier side of their style. How this balance works itself out will determine the course of Shroud Eater’s success as songwriters.
For the album at hand, ThunderNoise works best as an advertisement for the songs themselves, as a means of letting those who find them know that Shroud Eater have a creative take on the sludge of the day that’s headed in an individual direction if not completely arrived yet. I can’t help but wonder how this material would have fared in the hands of someone like Phillip Cope, obviously experienced in the genre through his work with Kylesa, but in any case, Shroud Eater’s tracks speak well of the band’s potential as a unit. Valentine is underrepresented in the low end here, and though I have a hard time holding production issues against unsigned bands, that snare really is rough depending on where you hear it, but ThunderNoise is still easily worth the effort to dig into, and I have the feeling we’ll be hearing from Shroud Eater for some time to come. It’s a work in progress, but progress is definitely being made.Florida, Miami, Shroud Eater, Unsigned bands