If long-running North Carolinian sludge outfit Sourvein are anything, they’re uncompromising. Those familiar with their work know what’s coming, but that doesn’t make the impact of their music any less devastating or abrasive. Led by frontman T-Roy Medlin, they began in 1993 and have seen numerous lineup changes from members who’ve gone on to play in bands from Electric Wizard to Bongzilla to Saint Vitus. But Sourvein – closely related to Buzzov*en both ethically and through Medlin – has persisted nonetheless, and following a slew of EPs and splits since 2002’s Will to Mangle, nine years later finds them releasing Black Fangs (Candlelight), their third full-length. Medlin is joined for the album by guitarist “King James” Haun (Ol’ Scratch), bassist Ahmasi O’Daniel (Earthride’s Dave Sherman filled in on tour) and drummer Jeffrie Moen, and though the personnel in the band seems to be on a regular rotation, the mindset is the same as it’s ever been: Dirty sludge from the dirty South. Where their sonic and geographic countrymen in Weedeater peppered their latest offering with excursions into addled swamp psych and (eek!) brighter melodicism, Sourvein is all misery, all the time.
Were it not for the fact that anyone who’s going to hear it is likely already to have an opinion on Sourvein one way or the other, Black Fangs would be the kind of record you couldn’t put on for company. It begins with “Fangs,” which is among the riffiest tracks, with Haun’s guitar dominant in the mix and Medlin’s raw-throated screams buried underneath. This is to be the course for just about all of the album, but the rhythm section of O’Daniel and Moen isn’t to be counted out. Moen’s cymbals fill out the high end while O’Daniel drops the low like his arms just can’t hold it anymore, and a song like “Society’s Blood” – or really any of the tracks present – is that much stronger for their work. It’s amazing that Sourvein at this point should sound so potent as a lineup, since it’s been proven over and again that all the members around Medlin are interchangeable. Nonetheless, Sourvein in 2011 distinguishes itself simply by releasing a full-length album – four splits and an EP trilogy have marked the years since 2002 – and the dedicated fanbase that’s followed the band over that time will be much pleased with the feedback-soaked nastiness served up on these 10 cuts. For dank, hateful Southern sludge, Black Fangs is second to nobody.
Faster tracks like the three-minute “Gasp,” on which Medlin’s vocals seem to be even further drenched in echo, do more than just border on extreme metal, but Sourvein make their bones on the slower and more excruciating cuts like “Holy Transfusion,” which reels back before its onslaught is let loose, giving the already inhuman feel of the record an even more cruel bent as O’Daniel’s bass provides a bed for the guitars to cut in and out of. If serial killers weren’t always the quiet guys in the corner, this is what they might sound like. Considering the raw, basic structures and rudimentary nature of the songs, Black Fangs pulls off a strikingly dense atmosphere, and part of the credit for that has to go to the production, which hits on an excellent balance of clarity and dirt. Every layer of feedback, every hiss and pop, every tearing vocal cord is captured and presented in such a way as to keep the authenticity of Sourvein’s live show in the mind of any listener who’s seen it, and as the album wears on, it loses none of the first half’s visceral bite. “Nomadic,” which could just as easily be a statement of purpose as regards their touring ethic, is a highlight, and the impossibly low, down-feeling “Gemini” is positively disgusting. Haun’s guitar sets the path, and the rest of the band follows the riff, and though the groove is one you want to keep up with, you can’t help but feel like the ground is getting softer as you go.
Thus, the term “sludge” has rarely been so fitting. Sourvein are so rife with bastardly fuck-all that Black Fangs is bound to be a highlight of 2011’s sludge releases. The lumbering closer that fades into morose guitar lines, “Nocturnal/Negative Phaze” adds some doomed stomp to the proceedings, but as was said at the outset, if you know Sourvein’s work, then you know what you’re going to get. Their no-bullshit approach is readily on display here, and although I know they’ve had plenty of outlet for it in the meantime, songs like “Night Eyes” and the later “Bleeding Charm” feel like they’ve got about nine years’ worth of pent-up anger in them. Since it’s been just over two years since their last split came out, that sounds about right. If you’re looking for something to make your rage feel small, Black Fangs is a must-hear.
Tags: Candlelight, Cape Fear, North Carolina, Sourvein