There’s a lot of sludge in this world. It comes from everywhere. From places warm and sunny and cold and dank, dry and wet, north and south. And somehow, the sound manages to fit. Based around a universal core of dissatisfaction and misanthropic fuckall, sludge can speak to similar ideas coming from India or New Orleans. Geography really doesn’t matter, and yet, in listening to Products, the R.A.I.G. debut from sludge extremists Fire to Fields , I can’t get the fact that they’re from Siberia out of my head. It makes the flames on their album cover seem to have an element of wishful thinking, adds a bone-chill to the vicious screams of frontman Stas, and renders the six-track/55-minute outing even less pleasant in a cross-sensory kind of way, burying the doomed riffing and plodding groove under a weighted blanket of snow and biting wind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the album is a challenge. The best extreme sludge should be fundamentally unpleasant on the ear, and Fire to Fields are almost entirely amelodic. Their rhythms are slow, progressions lag and drag, and whether it’s the trashcan snare sound from drummer Oleg, buzzsaw distortion of guitarist Vova and bassist Dima or Stas’ largely one-sided extremity of delivery, there’s really no letup in the pummel. Products is comprised of four new recordings and two older ones — the penultimate Eyehategod cover “Depress” and closer “Fire to Fields” were on the band’s original 2009 demo – and though the difference between the first four tracks and the last two is audible, if you’re listening to Fire to Fields for the sound fidelity, you’re doing it wrong. This is feedback-drenched noise malevolence that plays out like it’s in a contest with itself to see how fast it can get you to beg mercy or at least press stop, the already-extended “From Illness into Sickness” (7:08) and “Manufacturing Corpse” (10:45) giving way to the droning molasses of “Fat,” the longest track at 12:22 and an easy focal point of Products for the radicalism on display in its musical ideology. Its cold is that much colder.
Their formative Eyehategod cover is a good establishing point for their overall sonic ethic (as much as you can call music like this ethical), but no question the newer tracks or at least newer recordings are more developed in terms of approach. On “From Illness to Sickness,” lyrics are there but almost completely indecipherable through listening – they appear printed in the CD liner – and Stas cuts through the morass of guitar and bass nastiness to become a singularly defining element in the band. There will be many who can’t listen to Products on account of his vocals alone, never mind the high-pitched noise solo Vova works into the opener’s halfway point and the barrage of feedback that occurs throughout, but the album doesn’t feel haphazard or like its assault is without purpose. Even nihilism has to have a reason behind it, and Fire to Fields’ method is there underlying the violence for anyone willing to find it. The question is just whether or not a given listener is going to be able to stand said violence, and in the case of most, the answer is probably no. Likely this suits Fire to Fields well enough, if the inhumanity of “Manufacturing Corpse” is anything to go by, since they show little interest in being friendly and establish only the most cursory of riff-led grooves, their sound based more around a lurch than anything that might elicit a nod from all but the most angry of show-going drunkards… in Siberia. Both “From Illness to Sickness” and “Manufacturing Corpse” have a chorus, as it were, but by the time you’ve dug it out, you’re so caked in dirt that it doesn’t matter anymore. And when “Fat” kicks in with its ultra-plodding, slow, slower, slowest-type pacing, Stas winds up eliciting a sense of agony few have been able to harness since Alan Dubin. Oleg drives the plod of “Fat,” slamming into toms and cymbals while Dima’s thickened tone rumbles along and the guitars seem to growl in kind with fits of disturbing noise. They’re nearly 11 minutes in before the foot moves off your neck, and even then, the only real difference is that the tempo picks up slightly, a searing chirp of tube-melting gurgle leading into the rumbled beginning of “Superstore Fodder.”