Slough Feg, Digital Resistance: Ravenous Medicine

Moral superiority suits San Francisco metallers Slough Feg. Their sound, rooted in NWOBHM traditions and met with righteousness culled from Celtic folk, is neither that simple nor that limited. They reside in that same hallowed realm of underappreciation as Voivod, whose Killing Technology is lyrically referenced here, or like what would’ve happened if the early metal of Cirith Ungol and Manilla Road had continued an unabated progression. All comparisons due justice to parts of their sound, none to the whole of it. Slough Feg‘s eighth full-length, 2010’s The Animal Spirits (review here), was organic in its sound and presentation, and while their 2014 follow-up, Digital Resistance (on Metal Blade), feels inherently more aggressive, it’s hard to figure where the line actually resides between band self-awareness and reading a narrative into the songs. Certainly, Slough Feg, who formed in 1990 and are led by guitarist/vocalist Mike Scalzi with Angelo Tringali on guitar, Adrian Maestas on bass and Harry Cantwell on drums, can be expected know what they’re doing by now, and as the title indicates, they’re working in opposition — the position beginning with opener “Analogue Avengers/Bertrand Russell’s Sex Den” seems to be (which I say because I haven’t had the benefit of a lyric sheet) resistance to the digital rather than putting up a resistance via or from the digital — so it’s just as easy to think the signs of a struggle are evoked from the music as they are actually present in it. Who ever knows anything, anyway? Rock and roll, goddammit.

The opener sets both the stage and a dramatic tone befitting it, Scalzi‘s voice clear as ever over the band’s dense and rhythmic churn, but the ensuing title-track offers more of a gallop, and much of Digital Resistance seems keen to play the two sides off each other. A seamless blend of acoustic and electric guitar is nothing new for Slough Feg, and though the character and theme of this album is different, one can hear traces of consistency and development both from The Animal Spirits and the preceding outings, 2009’s Ape Uprising! and 2007’s Hardworlder. Slough Feg sounding like Slough Feg shouldn’t be any great surprise to anyone who’s followed the band at any point in their tenure, but that creative will to stand apart suits well the personality of Digital Resistance, and as “Habeas Corpsus” introduces a spacious acoustic strum amid tom roll and multi-layered vocals, the rush in terms of pace is no less prevalent than it was on the title cut — momentum quickly built and even quicker once it gets going. “Magic Hooligan” furthers the pace, bouncing thrash circularity off more technically engaged riff work and slamming into heavy rock groove into its second half as a bed for classic-style soloing and smooth transition back to a double-kick final verse, a sneakier guitar line in “Ghastly Appendage” holding more tension even as it seems to be paying off in its chorus, peculiar and instrumental save for maniacal laughing. Digital Resistance doesn’t feel overtly structured for vinyl — at 10 tracks and just under 41 minutes, it breaks evenly track-wise at 19 minutes for side A and almost 22 for side B, with “Ghastly Appendage” providing a strange, down-the-rabbit-hole vibe to close out the first half.

If indeed that’s where the split is (ironically the review copies of Digital Resistance are just that: digital), side B gets a strong lead-in with “Laser Enforcer,” which was an advance single for the album. Brash, motoring chug picks up right where “Magic Hooligan” left off, shades of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden coming through the guitar in gritty tone, Scalzi crying out a chorus that at least the first time through seems more like a vehicle to get to the bridge and solo at the halfway point than the center of the song itself. If anything, that’s indicative of a live feel to the recording, since unquestionably that bridge and solo are more fun to play. A second runthrough leads to an even more intricate instrumental stretch, then turns back around to the verse and chorus to end out in true single fashion. Ample complement arrives with “The Price is Nice,” a swaggering groove emerging from start-stop riffing and a deceptively memorable pulse, but the album ultimately finds its payoff — the place where the momentum has been driving — in “Curriculum Vitae,” which lets loose an irresistible sweep that doesn’t necessarily derail the album-spanning run that Slough Feg are on in their momentum, but marks a decided shift in direction. One of only two tracks over five minutes long (the other is the longest, “Habeas Corpsus,” at 5:08), it begins with a build that only clues where it’s headed in Maestas‘ bassline, which is more open under the guitar, and then at about 1:15 in, it kicks into Digital Resistance‘s most satisfying groove. Once again, acoustic and electric guitars work in unison, but simultaneously, the theatricality of the album’s early going returns and all sides seem to converge into what’s both Digital Resistance‘s highlight and its most groundbreaking moment in terms of Slough Feg‘s sound.

With that shift in mood, the starts and stops of “The Luddite” arrive with something of a different context, but they arrive as more than an afterthought all the same. The placing of “Curriculum Vitae” is curious — it’s got two songs after, so it’s not the end of the album, but as a side B centerpiece, it’s still definitely meant to be the payoff for Digital Resistance up to that point — and its curiosity I’ll gladly posit as another example of Slough Feg being who and what they are musically. It should be a little otherworldly, a little (lord) weird, a little bit working on its own level. “The Luddite” is quick but satisfying at a little over three minutes, and “Warriors Dusk” ends in companion style to “Digital Resistance,” which is all the more satisfying for tying up what may or may not have been a narrative arc running through the tracks. Emphasis on “running” when it comes to the efficiency and clarity of Slough Feg‘s approach as well as their pacing, since even as they continue to push into new ground for them, they do so in a manner distinctly and wholly their own. Slough Feg‘s is one of the most recognizable sounds in metal underground or otherwise, and as it’s been about three and a half years since their last full-length arrived — their longest stretch since 2000’s Down Among the Deadmen and 2003’s Traveller, and they had the 2011 live outing, Made in Poland, for a stopgap — and Digital Resistance comes as a welcome addition to a discography rife with a deeply individual take on what heavy music is, should and can be.

Slough Feg, “Digital Resistance” from Digital Resistance (2014)

Slough Feg on Thee Facebooks

Metal Blade Records

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One Response to “Slough Feg, Digital Resistance: Ravenous Medicine”

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