Noise-infected Aussie five-piece Whitehorse specialize in the kind of death/doom that’s so lurching and massive in its brown metal tonality that it sounds slow even on the few occasions the band decides to speed things up. The Melbourne, Victoria, group have released enough live albums and EPs since 2005 to be called prolific, but the sludge-grooving Progression (Sweat Lung Records) is only their second full-length in that time, following a 2007 self-titled released by 20 Buck Spin. At a vinyl-ready 38 minutes, Progression is preceded in 2011 by the Document: 250407 EP, and a split with Rhode Island avant doomers The Body has already followed, but the album was clearly made to stand on its own, and it does, inflicting its dreary, darkened atmospherics well beyond the point of oppression. Whitehorse – guitarist Adrian Naudi (ex-The Berzerker), bassist Pete McLean, drummer Dan McKay, noise-maker David Coen and vocalist Peter Hyde – delve into the depths of viciousness, the ultra-slow riffing providing some groove that, again, is more prominent in the faster stretches, but still holds firm to some doom-based ideals and sets a firm ground for Hyde to launch his all-out brutal vocal assault in the forms of death growls and blackened metal screams that play well off each other on songs like the later “Time Worm Regression.”
Nothing polarizes quite like harsh vocals. Some people just can’t take it. I’m not one of them. If you can scream or growl effectively, fit with the rhythm and the atmosphere set by the music, then I’m all for it, and as far as that goes, Hyde has a handle on both technique and presentation. His growls echo over McKay’s crashes and the thudding riffs of Naudi and McLean, sounding disenfranchised and inhuman at the same time. Given Australia’s history of death/doom (dISEMBOWELMENT walks by and waves), Whitehorse aren’t exactly innovative, but they do what they do well, and Coen’s added noises and electronics do much to distinguish the band from others of their ilk. At their heart, they are unrelentingly heavy, and as the five tracks of Progression – “Mechanical Disintegration,” “Progression,” “Control, Annihilate,” “Time Worn Regression” and “Remains Unknown” – play out, Whitehorse’s blend of sludge and death/doom becomes even more effective, until finally the same plodding drums that introduced “Mechanical Disintegration” lead the way out of the 10:45 “Remains Unknown.” Hyde is a big part of that heaviness, since he never wavers in the filthiness of his approach, but each member of the band plays a part, including Coen, whose presence is immediately felt on the opener, playing off McKay’s drums with echoing rhythmically-timed noises of his own. There is a sense of foreboding about the opening of Progression, and Coen is a big factor in it.