It’s probably fair to call Colony of Machines, the latest outing from Cincinnati, Ohio, atmospheric sludge duo Mollusk, an EP. It’s got four songs, they total about 28 minutes. For my money, however, it’s a follow-up full-length installment to their 2011 self-titled debut (review here), and one that further expands their post-metal leanings at that. Where the self-titled seemed to place tracks according to an overall purpose, Colony of Machines constructs its purpose from the songs. That might seem like a minute distinction, but it manifests on the more recent self-release in the form of longer, more complete component parts. There are three extended cuts an the shorter title-track as an ambient interlude — “Shifting Decay” (9:07), “Hollowed” (7:45), “Colony of Machines (2:38) and “Denisova” (9:06) — and while one could argue it’s the opener and closer leaving the greatest impression because of their length, each piece has something to offer both on its own and in relation to the others. What the last two years seems to have brought to Mollusk‘s sound is a solidifying effect, a tightening of their grasp on their aesthetic, and a refining of bassist/guitarist/vocalist Neal Hunter and drummer/vocalist Chase Schleyer‘s ability to concoct an overarching flow. It’s principally because of how well the songs work together that I consider Colony of Machines an album at all, and that’s not to say Mollusk didn’t work similarly (, just that the process by which the two-piece gets to that point has gotten more efficient. And for what it’s worth, since I seem to be hung up on it as I was last time, Colony of Machines is actually longer than its predecessor, which was 24 minutes. Telling in how the band’s approach has shifted, however, is the fact that in that 24 minutes, they packed in nine songs, several of which were basically just parts waiting to be strung together. Well, now they have been, and as “Shifting Decay” begins its initial pulse, the task Mollusk have undertaken in developing their sound seems all the more worthwhile.
Since first encountering the band — and this applies to their earlier-2013 split tape with Stormbrewer as well (review here) — I haven’t been able to shake a distinct mental correlation to defunct Maryland bashers Swarm of the Lotus, who in the early and middle part of the last decade swallowed a Neurosis influence and spit out a vile maw of bombastic and cerebral crush. Mollusk share some of that intent, mostly in the shouting vocals cutting through oppressive distortion, but on Colony of Machines, the tone of Hunter‘s guitar is darker, and so the release sounds more atmospheric overall. “Shifting Decay,” with its immediate thrust and build of tension, is a monster of low end. Schleyer does a remarkable job in propelling the churn, and remains fluid whether it’s in the chugging onslaught or the brief, airier section that follows the first verses, playing only more of a central role in establishing the circular course of the next build with fast tom runs en route to open and vicious grooving. Where and when Mollusk tradeoff loud and quiet elements, they work quickly, and never seem too inclined to rest toward one side or the other — a measure here, a cycle there. The effect this has is to make “Shifting Decay” both more exciting and more linear. They’re not returning to a chorus after every verse; they’re going somewhere else. As it inevitably has to, the opener winds up in a deathly apex, first of thrashing chaos and then of layered, weighted doom riffing, at last hitting a final crash and giving way to silence before a feedback hum introduces “Hollowed,” a creepy guitar ambience giving over after about 90 seconds to Colony of Machines‘ heaviest single riff. It slow, it is tectonic, and it stands up to whatever lofty image of a field of crushed skulls it might conjure in your head. They’re more patient this time in getting to the vocals, but the approach is the same when they show up just before three minutes in, and as “Hollowed” drives toward its own crescendo, the chief difference between it and the opener is that it’s even more unrelenting.