Though one usually tends to think of sludge as emanating or at least imitating the climate of the Southeastern part of the US – the unbearable summer heat and lung-collapsing humidity are an arguable impetus for the sound in themselves – its influence is far more widespread than its geography, and one of the more interesting upshots of that is hearing what players from different regions bring to the already established style. The single-guitar five-piece Godhunter, whose name is about as metal as it gets, make their home in Tucson, Arizona, and to follow suit, the sound of their self-released Wolves EP is bone dry. Sure, David Rodgers’ guitars are outfitted with stonerly distortion, but there’s something in the tone that comes off like it gets less than 10 inches of annual rainfall. As the five tracks progress, and particularly as a Down influence makes itself known on riffy closer “(Dead Hooker by the Side of) The Road,” that dryness becomes more consuming, and though Godhunter have done well to change the pace throughout – showing sludge’s punk/crossover roots on “Red State/Black Crusade” before dooming it up on “Powerbelly” – Wolves becomes more typified by its excursions into hardcore-style gang vocals, with Rodgers and guest vocalist Sean Raines joining in standalone-singer Charlie Touseull’s shouts on the 7:40 “Powerbelly” for a rousing, memorable chorus about black magic, black whiskey, evil women and bags of weed. The same tactic shows up on “The Road,” as well, and as that and “Powerbelly” are both near eight-minutes long, they seem written at a different time than the first three tracks, or at least working on a different line of inspiration, whether it’s the output of multiple songwriters or what. Neither song is out of place on Wolves, and the material is all the more cohesive because of the consistency of its production – which thins Ryan “Dick” Williamson’s bass some and less than ideally captures drummer Ryan Clark’s toms on opener “(Stop Being) Sheep,” but is steady in setting an overall context nonetheless – so maybe it’s just a case of burgeoning sonic diversity beginning to show itself.
Either way, the Wolves EP makes for a solid 32 minutes of sludge-based aggression, and whatever forms it’s working with, they generally arrive still well able to qualify as such. The vocals are mixed high from the start, though one gets the sense that Touseull wouldn’t have had any trouble cutting through the music surrounding anyway, but it’s a couple minutes into “(Stop Being) Sheep” before he comes on, and in that time, Godhunter set a steady build and enforce and underlying groove that shows some schooling in doom. The guitar runs a creepy line complemented by Williamson’s bass, and it’s not until more than halfway through that the verse begins with angry, metallic-sounding throaty shouts – not quite growls or screams, but not clean either for still being mostly decipherable. Musically, the momentum seems to really play itself out over the course of the last minute, but the anticipation for a payoff to that 5:49 build remains as Godhunter moves into “Wolves of the North.” Fortunately, the track wastes no time in providing a higher stake of energy, Touseull and Rodgers foreshadowing the gang chants to come with some back and forth in the verse and chorus. Both Williamson and Clark are given better treatment here, with the former filling out beneath a guitar lead with style and apparent ease as the drums make ready to renew the crashes and kick-thuds of the chorus. Matthew Davis is credited with keyboards in the liner, but if there are any on “Wolves of the North,” I must be missing them, and in the time since the EP’s late-2011 release, Davis seems to have been replaced by a guitarist named Jake, which is probably fair since there are multiple layers of guitar throughout Wolves and more distortion rarely hurts.