Dual-guitar riff excavators Slomatics released their fourth full-length, Estron, last year on Burning World Records, and for those who’d worship at an altar of tone, it makes a suitable icon. The Belfast, Northern Ireland, trio roll out sans bass but want nothing for low end, Chris Couzens and David Majury contributing tectonic force on songs like “Tunnel Dragger” and “Lost Punisher” while drummer/vocalist Marty Harvey (also of War Iron) sets the lurch in motion, his voice echoing deep from within the band’s well-honed morass. Songs are spacious but consuming and full, and on the 38-minute offering there’s really only one moment of letup: the two-minute ambient interlude “Red Dawn” that precedes closer “The Carpenter” (also the longest track at 10:26). Beyond that, Slomatics offer few opportunities (some, but few) to let the air back into their listeners’ lungs, and that’s clearly the idea. Estron marks not only their fourth long-player, but also their first decade in the band, Couzens and Majury having started Slomatics in 2004 and Harvey joining in 2011 between their breakout split with Conan (review here) and 2012’s A Hocht full-length, released on Head of Crom. In that decade, and in any case well before they got around to Estron, Couzens and Majury figured out what they wanted from their assault, and Estron bears the fruit of their hammering-out. Though slow-moving, the album is fluid front to back, and thanks in no small part to Harvey‘s vocals, it has a sense of melody to complement its crushing, nigh-on-claustrophobic tonality.
The nod is persistent, and even on the airier “And Yet it Moves” — something you might say about the band’s sound itself — you wouldn’t be wrong to call it brutal, but there’s a human presence in the material as well, and I have a hard time thinking that as Slomatics wreak all this aural havoc they’re not also having a really good time doing it. That’s not to say there’s some element of irony here, just that Majury, Couzens and Harvey seem to revel in the harsh riffscape they create. And why not? “And Yet it Moves” is a highlight for the interplay of lead and rhythm lines, but even when Couzens and Majury are locked into simultaneous plod-riffing à la “Futurian” or the opening “Troglorite,” the output is righteous in its heaviness — the opener particularly indebted to Floor but darker in atmosphere — and exciting in its delivery. Estron works cleanly in two sides, four tracks on side A, three on side B, and the transitions between songs are direct bleeds, usually via feedback, but the resultant over-arching flow isn’t to be understated, and on the CD version, even “Lost Punisher,” which would close out side A of the vinyl, moves right into “And Yet it Moves,” which would otherwise come after the flip to side B. It’s emblematic of Estron being a well-thought-out release, rather than a happenstance collection of badass riffs, and it serves to inform about Slomatics approach as a whole. Their songwriting is likewise purposeful, whether it’s the hook of “Troglorite” or the sparse, minimal opening of “The Carpenter” that emerges from “Red Dawn” and builds to a gradual head over the track’s first four minutes. In between, Slomatics offer variety of pace, shift between levels of aggression, and keep a strong sense of atmosphere in moments like the midsection break of “Tunnel Dragger,” which drones out a hypnotic ambience before moving back in for the next round of pummeling.
And make no mistake, many of Estron‘s finest stretches arise from those pummeling moments, be it the shorter barrage on “Futurian” and the CD-centerpiece “Lost Punisher” or the album’s immersive second half, with “And Yet it Moves,” “Red Dawn” and “The Carpenter.” Either way Slomatics go, they carefully manage a balance of heft and spaciousness throughout while sounding anything but careful. It’s a deceptive record in that one might put it on for the first time, hear Couzens and Majury‘s tones and say, “Okay, I got it,” but though the impact of the guitars is a big part of Slomatics‘ approach, it’s really just one piece of a larger, more dynamic picture, working in concert with the drums and vocals, the largesse, the periodic, well-placed breaks and so on for a complete and engrossing effect. Estron is remarkably cohesive even from a band who’ve been around for a decade, and while Slomatics have clearly established a wheelhouse for themselves in which to work, what they bring to that context is a sense of progression and a willfulness to create a whole album, not just a roundup of songs or parts. In this, they are resoundingly successful. Worth noting as well that Couzens, Majury and Harvey have already issued a follow-up to Estron in the form of a split single with Floridian tone-and-crashers Holly Hunt, who make a fitting companion. It would seem Slomatics are content to keep moving forward and pushing their sound along with them — and yet it moves… — and that is an ethic worth celebrating, because honestly, if they wanted to, they could probably just sit around, bang out cheapo riff grooves and get by just on the badassery of their tones. That they aspire to and are able to create something deeper and more resonant is ultimately what stands them out from any like-minded peers.