Famed German-American writer Charles Bukowski once wrote “don’t swim in the same slough.” But there are times when an extended dip wading in shards of dark, gooey death metal seems oddly appealing. A good starting point for this sort of wallow would be “Eastern Vancouver’s” Sludge trio Balkan and their self-titled November 2021 release. The sparse album art of glittering corpses at twilight tells the story — and it’s not afternoon tea and crumpets at Grammas’s house. We waste no time languishing in the murky fog.
The proceedings ensue with an uneasy squeal of apocalyptic feedback — the 9:19 track “Burial Hammer.” Death wish doom power chords and the all too familiar status-quo black metal Darth Vader vomit vocals. The ominous opening composition clearly unravels — discarding us to an unforgiven, sinister and unspeakable late night ritual. Could this be the sound of hell? Heavy shit. It’s too bad though that the lyrics are either a) non-existent b) indistinguishable or c) reduced to a primal regurgitation of sorts. We soon bleed into the next cut, a desperate coagulation titled “Become Wrath.” Slightly shorter at 7:14, but equally as epic. I sizzle in my self-imposed audio hell and embrace the soundtrack of my early demise. Die young and leave a good looking corpse — or at least a mildly attractive one. I’m getting the feeling that the obligatory deep cut sleeper ballad will not be a part of this effort. A fuzzed out bass line breaks the barrage before we return to the drudgery. Track three, “Armor of Leeches,” clears the muddy waters — this band knows how to jam the feedback. The gut-wrenching growl keeps on and the hellish exploits continue.
Balkan is Chris H – Bass/Vocals, Dusty M – Drums, and Rob B – Guitars. They describe this record as “Songs about our shared human suffering” … yes! Interestingly the album is available on a limited High-bias cassette tape “packed with 34 minutes of dismal sludge death doom” … now who still has a functional Walkman?
At 1:05, the second to last tune “Goring Hook” is no slouch, complete with the pitter-patter of Dusty M’s rapid tom-tom action, reminding one of Lucifer pounding his burning chest. And then of course we have the conclusive “Crossing the Vile.” This is clearly the most dynamic and strongest of the five tracks. I’m into this one. An infectious guitar riff — Sabbath meets Soundgarden meets Mayhem (hopefully minus the church burning) — that is as close to a hook as you’re going to get from Balkan. The somewhat sullen spiritual chant interlude at about the 4:45 mark takes us gently down for a moment and then we return to the violent drone of the depths of despair.
Bleak music for bleak times.
Burn baby burn.