Filthy. Horrid. Deviant. Region-spanning five-piece The Disease Concept should be ashamed of themselves for having made Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel – a debut EP not even a mother could love, so encrusted is it with its own nastiness. Of course, that’s the whole idea and the Ohio/Philly/New York fivesome revel in it, but man, this shit is abrasive, taking ethical basis from Ohio’s sludge and bringing it before two well-noted badasses on guitar: Dave “Depraved” Szulkin of Blood Farmers and Tommy Southard of Solace. The Disease Concept’s debut marks Southard’s first outing post-Solace (and, presumably, pre-Solace) and finds the Obelisk contributor’s signature heavy rock shred – see the end of closer “Soboxone Blues (Rock Bottom)” – coupled with the drugged-out psychosis of Ohio’s sludge scene, represented in the band by bassist Chris “Griff” Griffith, drummer Corey Bing and vocalist Jesse Kling, all of whom have been in and out of and around bands like Sollubi, Morbid Wizard and Pennsylvania Connection. The resulting stew doesn’t necessarily belong wholly to one side or the other, but is nonetheless unquestionably toxic. Though his vocals straddle a line between cleaner rhythmic shouts and screaming (skillfully veering to one side or another to add dynamics to the songs), Kling tops songs that masterfully blend abrasion and groove in a manner that stoner rock might have become had prescription narcotics been so readily available in the early ‘70s. Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel (released through Goat Skull Records in a DVD case with art by Scott Stearns) is 29 minutes/five tracks of viciousness that you have to stand back and be impressed by, because your only other option is to be bowled over as it steamrollers its way to the next victim.
The central blend at the heart of what The Disease Concept does on their first outing – put to tape and mixed by Big Metal Dave at Bad Back Studios in Cleveland over the course of three days at the start of this year – is crust and heavy doom grooves. On that level, it might not seem so different from a lot of sludge, but right away, opener “Black Cocaine” distinguishes Liquor Bottles and Broken Steel from a lot of what grows out of Ohio’s formidable and rotten underground. Based around a riff that’s more heavy rocking than dirge-minded (rest assured, that comes later), there’s a straightforward ethic at work underneath all the abrasiveness that’s almost – almost – regarding the listener as something other than an object to be pummeled into the ground. Make no mistake, there’s nothing about the EP that’s remotely accessible, but “Black Cocaine” might be catchy by some alternate universe definition of the word. In any case, Szulkin and Southard represent the Eastern Seaboard well riff-wise, and Bing – who’s proved time and again to be a master of sludge drumming – does no different here, riding out weighted rhythms alongside Griffith’s thick bass, which doesn’t so much undercut the riff that begins “Double Winner” as it does mark the song’s actual beginning when it kicks in with the drums around 45 seconds into the total 7:37 – an appropriate length for a song that’s about as dooming as a plane crash. The opening guitar progression seems initially to have something mournful in common with YOB’s “Catharsis,” but The Disease Concept would only be likely to approach a space influence to stab it in the belly, so the song quickly moves on to more violent territory, Kling recounting a narrative of a woman, “Two black eyes and a bottle of Jack,” in rehab apparently as a “double winner,” i.e. someone in Al-Anon and AA, an alcoholic also affected by someone else’s alcoholism, or as Kling puts it, “She took the pain train/Never coming back/Eighteen days on the detox ward/She tried to walk a straight line/Then she got bored.” So be it. The lyrics might be sympathetic if Kling wasn’t about to call the protagonist a dumb bitch for trying to kill herself.