When Man and Slug Collide; Slugdge 'Esoteric Malacology' Review
Slugdge - Esoteric Malacology
(2018, Willowtip Records)
Words: Ben Armstrong
Gimmicks and metal go together about as well as anything and have been happily co-existing since the birth of the genre itself. Even when it tries its best to be super serious, metal is – at its heart – absolutely ridiculous and this is something to be cherished rather than be embarrassed about. From KISS, Manowar, and Black Sabbath to Black Veil Brides, Ghost and Steel Panther, gimmicks have proven to be an invaluable way to capture the imagination of the masses (and make a ruck of money in merchandise sales).
However, it all goes to piss precisely at the point where the gimmick is the only selling point for the artist. What do Ghost and Kiss have in common? Fucking great songs. The live show is more appealing to me because of the theatrics – more entertainment for my money is never going to be a negative – but the reason I’m getting off my sofa in the first place is because of the Fucking Great Songs. It’s hard to write a song, it’s easy to dress up in robes and act like you’re the most cvlt dude in the room. You can make money off the latter though, because such is the way of the world.
"A timeless snapshot of what metal actually is. It’s ridiculous yet serious, it’s obvious and subtle, it’s a colourful pantomime but deeply inaccessible."
Slugdge are still a relatively unknown, high-output band from Lancashire, UK and purveyors of The Gimmick. Devotees of it, in fact, such that every single album and song is punning on some metal staple in combination with their mollusc fixation. It’s hard not to laugh when you realise you’re nodding your head to a song called Salt Thrower, and I guess that’s the point. In some ways, it’s a cheap pop but we must delve deeper into the content to find out if the songs are worth the heavy investment in comedic dress-up.
Esoteric Malacology (roughly translated: slug-based content meant to be understood by only a few people) is the perfect in-joke-come-title for Slugdge’s new record which they fully realise won’t be for everyone. How could it? My dad thinks AC/DC are too heavy and too lyrically banal to be listenable. Most people like songs about love with twittery trap hi-hats and overwrought Pitbull guest-raps.
But this hour long behemoth is for some people and some people has always been enough people for forms of more extreme metal to thrive. More specifically, this record is for anyone with an interest in metal because, voila! Slugdge have tipped the gimmick scale in the right direction: that is, some style, all substance. Esoteric… is a triumph on multiple fronts but most of all, its music shines above any preconceptions you might have about the impossible to pronounce band name, the tongue in cheek song titles or the shades-of-slam-death-metal cover art.
The listening experience is beyond surprising, even as a seasoned listener of Slugdge. As a newcomer, expect the exact opposite of the rushed, corner-cutting death metal clone that bands like this often are. This record is whip smart, incredibly well recorded and oozes the class of a seasoned, decades-old metal act. I re-listened to it today after a few weeks away in an attempt to give this review a more balanced perspective. It’s still fucking brilliant. It sounds better now than it did before. Notably, I can remember the main hooks - those flashes of melodic harmony, the clean sung sections, the load-bearing riffs - but the rest of it still took me by surprise. Like returning home after a holiday, you remember where the stairs are but forgot how perfect having a reliable kettle is.
Aside from the fact that not a single song or even moment on this record is less than a) solid, b) surprising or c) both, and the most amazing thing about Slugdge is that something of this quality has been achieved by two guys in a room without a whole lot of resource. The death knell for ‘the old way’ of doing things has been coming for a while but it’s albums like this that really batter those nails into the coffin lid.
Overall then, Esoteric Malacology is a lot of things. It’s as fast as the clappers, it’s sludgy and slow, it’s blisteringly technical and then it’s really quite simple. It borrows and re-purposes from metal tradition and it conjures up new ideas to freshen up this alien brew. Although the only criticism I can level at this record is that it’s everything all at once, this may also be its greatest strength: a timeless snapshot of what metal actually is. It’s ridiculous yet serious, it’s obvious and subtle, it’s a colourful pantomime but deeply inaccessible. Metal is a contradiction, Slugdge make it make sense.