Their Name is Eyehategod (and They Still Hate You)
No matter how many times a band’s been ripped off, their sound is still best heard coming from them. Carcass schooled twenty years of derivative deathgrind with Surgical Steel, Gorguts showed up about a third of the Profound Lore roster last year, and even Burzum managed to sound fresh after Varg’s stint in prison for… that thing he did (I forget). Eyehategod were never going to be an exception to this rule, but their new (!!!) self-titled record is nice evidence to settle any arguments. The band’s trademark amalgamation of Ozzy-era Sabbath and side two of My War is alive and well. And while the band have been to hell and back (they give Baroness a run for their money), they don’t sound tired or fragile. They don’t sound reheated, either. This is fresh, stinking Eyehategod pulling itself out of the NOLA swamps to backhand a bunch of reformed hardcore kids vapidly biting their sound. It lives up pretty much exactly to your expectations. Which is to say, it’s really fucking good.
Eyehategod’s success stems as much from exceedingly meeting expectations as it does from subverting them. For a band who’s mostly known for doing sludge metal almost perfectly, their first album since 2000 opens with a reminder of their hardcore roots. “Agitation! Propaganda!” isn’t a distant cousin to Eyehategod’s general MO, but opening their self-titled record with some fierce hardcore punk is a statement. The statement’s consistent as well: even though most of the songs that follow it may lack “Agitation! Propaganda!”’s velocity, they’re just as focused, venomous, and heavy. “Parish Motel Sickness” starts out with some seasick flailing, then eventually settles nicely into a sleazy doom riff. Riffs are Eyehategod’s ringer: every single goddamn one of them is excellent. (Seriously, guitarists Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton are still unparalleled in spewing out fetid doom metal.) Even though the majority of them volley between bluesy pentatonics and major keys, they all sound appropriately gnarled. “Worthless Rescue” plods along with sunny stoner rock fuzziness, but Mike Williams’ angrily strung out vocals drag it to the tetanus-infected corners of extreme metal. Even when the propulsive hardcore beats and snarling power chords come back for “Framed to the Wall,” it doesn’t feel random. The intensity’s been there since “Agitation!” opened the record up.
Part of Eyehategod’s excellence is how they don’t succumb to the facile amp worship their disciples usually can’t avoid. Plenty of the album’s tracks open with gloriously nasty harmonized feedback, but the songs that follow them are all right on point. In fact, the band don’t stumble into drone-doom tempo until the ninth track, and by that time, the seven-minute doom crawl of “Flags and Cities Bound” is well-earned. It doesn’t wallow or lose focus, though. Even when the band begins to crumble around a series of drums fills, it sounds more like the extended coda of Fugazi’s “23 Beats Off” than some guys who didn’t bother to wrap up a song. The generations of dudes ripping off Eyehategod missed the point: doom’s sluggish pace isn’t about daring listeners to pay attention while you jerk off. It’s about dragging an ugly moment out as long as possible, appropriately weeding out the faint of heart. But under that punishing length of time is meaning and purpose. At least that’s the case when it’s done right, and Eyehategod still do that right.
While a rough Steve Albini-style production would suit a band like EHG well (I’ll give you a second to deal with your music nerd boners after bringing up an Albini-engineered Eyehategod album), the clarity of their latest suits it incredibly well. The guitars sound majestic and warm, Williams’ vocals are at a great spot in the mix, and the late Joe LaCaze sounds crisp and huge behind the drums. And having Eyehategod be LaCaze’s last recorded performance is a decent farewell. He fences in the riffs with jazzy aplomb as well as providing a Bonham-esque stomp when shit gets really heavy (and more than a few Bill Ward-isms in there, too). But the irony of his passing is that Eyehategod sounds more alive and determined than almost anything else in their catalog. Their patented frustrated sickness is still present, but the band are walking with a limp instead of dragging themselves across the pavement. If there are going to be more EHG records (and the fact that they’re still playing out means it’s not out of the question), there’s no reason to expect them to be anything less than great. Eyehategod is a fitting addition to their rightfully-revered catalog. They’re finally back from the dead, even if they are still actively rotting.