There’s little room left for argument after all the air’s been pushed from your lungs. Six years after issuing their initial demo (review here) and subsequent split 10″ with Mico de Noche (review here), Brothers of the Sonic Cloth at long last make their full-length debut with a self-titled release on Neurot Recordings, and whatever weight is brought to Brothers of the Sonic Cloth via guitarist/vocalist Tad Doyle‘s pedigree for having fronted underrated Seattle heavy rockers TAD or work engineering at his own Witch Ape Studio, where this album was also recorded (Billy Anderson mixed), rest assured that’s still less heft than the tones on crushers like “Empires of Dust” and the churning, 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa.” Together with bassist Peggy “Pegadeth” Tully (also his wife) and drummer Dave French (also of The Annunaki), Tad leads the charge through seven rounds of atmospheric post-sludge, the record’s 44 minutes no less concerned with ambience and mood than with gritting their teeth and bashing the listener over the head with waves of tectonic nod. It is a massive, unforgiving impression that the album leaves behind, rife with churning tension, a volume-as-ritual sense of purpose and an impact that becomes undeniable by the time “I Am” shifts into the drum-led, Neurosis-style tribalism of “The Immutable Path,” but there’s also breadth to it, and even its repetitions have a reason behind them. French‘s drums alternate between doomed marching and driving propulsion, but the hitting is consistently hard, and that seems to be true just about across the board. Even in quiet stretches, like the beginnings of “Unnamed” or “I Am” or the piano-led “Outro,” which closes, there is a tense, clenched feel that never quite lets the listener be fully at ease.
It goes without saying, but that’s obviously the point. The intensity of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth‘s Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is not happenstance. It’s pervasive, and it begins with the very start of the album, on opener “Lava,” where what might otherwise have been an intro riff expands into a three-minute song topped with growled verses and crashing at full turn-this-up-now righteousness. A turn to a jagged riff sits well on some half-time drums and vocal call and response make the track an outlier compared to what follows — the next four cuts comprise the meat of the album and they’re all nearly or more than twice as long — but it’s as honest an introduction as one could ask. The only thing missing from it is the grueling and slow, and “Empires of Dust” quickly (also slowly) remedies the issue. Its first three minutes are devoted to far-back gutturalism and dirge riffing, and even after things open from there, setting up a back and forth that plays out again over “Empires of Dust”‘s 7:51 resulting in a morose but creative and semi-melodic doom, the vibe remains pummeling. Tad gurgles out lyrics obscured by the distortion surrounding and echoes of noise end out, leading to the spacious guitar line that starts “Unnamed” on a more subdued, peaceful note, as if all that swirling malevolence was just a dream. It wasn’t. In tone and vocal delivery, the quicker thrust of “Unnamed” reminds somewhat of the last Amebix as each syllable of each line seems spit out, but the churn behind is more in league with Through Silver in Blood‘s brand of chaotic atmospherics, and after five and a half minutes, the song moves into a different cycle entirely, chugging its way toward an apex met by vocals that prove the most melodic on the album. They jump back to the churn with less than a minute to go — an effective bookend — and the 11-minute “La Mano Poderosa,” a version of which also appeared on the demo, introduces its roll with the guitar, its central progression a theme from which it deviates only twice along its march, once for an angular break in the middle, and again for a bigger finish on which French once again pulls back on the drums to let the guitar and bass sound as huge as possible.
In its length and position, “La Mano Poderosa” is the centerpiece, but the following “I Am,” which was also a demo cut, is a more dynamic listen, following a build structure that starts quiet and brooding, makes its way toward its peak in the middle and, with a stop and scream just past 5:10 to signal arrival, rides out its groove for the remaining three minutes. To look at the waveform, there are clear indicators of increasing density, and the sound is no less marked out, but the flow crafted over the course of “I Am” makes it a highlight, and in some respects its the apex of Brothers of the Sonic Cloth, since neither “The Immutable Path,” on which Doyle joins John O’Connell on drums and layers a quiet vocal on top with droning ambience behind, nor the piano-led “Outro” approach the same kind of heft, though certainly each of the last two tracks has an atmospheric resonance of its own. That might be true even more of the two-minute “Outro,” which with just piano echoing has a disjointed feel that holds firm to its melody even as it begins to fade out to end the record. My understanding is “The Immutable Path” and “Outro” are both bonus tracks for the CD/DL editions of the album, but they have a function in the overarching mood of what comes before them anyway. No doubt part of the reason Brothers of the Sonic Cloth have garnered such a response is Tad Doyle‘s legacy and this self-titled being his first studio release since Hog Molly‘s lone outing in 2000, but this trio does nothing if they don’t set themselves apart from that legacy, and the spirit that pervades this material isn’t backward-looking in any way. That said, with six years between the demo and the album, I wouldn’t try to hazard a guess at when a follow-up might be in the beginning stages, let alone completed, but Brothers of the Sonic Cloth is an outing that does well standing on its own and its scope and sheer ferocity speak to a vibrant creativity at work.