Sludge, maybe more than any other genre in metal, benefits from aging. But not like a fine wine (partially because that’s a huge fucking cliché) and more like a bottle-conditioned beer. Sure, it’s pretty decent a little while after it’s bottled, but given enough time, it’ll bloom into something else altogether that leaves the original brew in the dust. Though there’s plenty of reason to be angry in your early 20s, there’s something to having a few decades under your belt, having seen some shit with sleeves of faded tattoos and a perpetually sad and lost-looking leathery face that just fits sludge’s MO just fine (by this line of thinking, the next eyehategod record will be the best thing they’ve ever done). And it’s why 16’s Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds works so well: it’s grown-up anger bowling over a generation of New Jacks. With all the charm and poise of indigestion, the band present a concise and effective slab of sludge metal. No frills, no surprises, and no bullshit.

The no surprises part hits the hardest, though. Dark Clouds doesn’t change much in its forty minutes, hovering around the same tempo and intensity. But it never grates or drags, instead driving up hunger for savage and bluesy riffs. And they never fail to show up. From the opening one-two of “Theme from ‘Pillpopper’” and the bouquet of grooves that is “Parasite” to dark little asides like “Ants in my Bloodstream” and “Her Little ‘Accident’” (the latter sounding like if Isis were Oxycontin-popping sex offenders), it’s enthralling. It wraps up consistently with “Only Photographs Remain”, not opting for the sort of melodrama that often closes out albums in this genre. It exits the way it came in, which means you get exactly what you came for. Dark Clouds is lean like a starved Rottweiler and mean like a hungover grandpa. Theoretically, it’s a dangerous game to stay that close to one plan of attack. In fact, 16 are just so fucking good at it that it doesn’t matter.

The production, too, is nice and clean (except for the vocals, which are wrapped in distortion and mixed low), which is seemingly antithetical to what a band like 16 would be going for. But it serves them well, providing the drums with a rich snap and the bass an elastic throb. And the guitars, of course, sound massive, simultaneously snarling and lumbering. It’s a triumph of limited scope, a modest goal achieved with aplomb. But that doesn’t mean they’re underachievers: it takes skill to nail something this well. And Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds certainly nails that balmy, drunk anger sludge is known for. It’s one thing to be born grouchy; it’s another to become that way.

(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)


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