Photo: Dean Karr
Fourteen years is a serious gap between records for any band that professes to be a going concern. Even for the deliberately slower-paced outfits of the sludgy New Orleans scene, it’s a long time coming, though to be fair they’ve had the tumult of Hurricane Katrina to contend with: for the rest of us a couple of weeks in the news cycle almost nine years ago, but for the denizens of the Delta City a daily reality ever since that storm hit and the levees broke.
Time passes differently when your world crashes down and you need to rebuild. And Eyehategod have had to do their share of rebuilding. They lost their city to the storm, but New Orleans is rising again. They lost their singer to prison, but Mike Williams‘ friends and bandmates rallied to his aid, helped him get out and stay clean (and in some cases, get clean themselves). Gigs and tours would follow, and so many side projects, and eventually plans for a new record. Then in August last year, another blow: Just as new life was breathed into the band, asthma stole drummer Joey LaCaze‘s last breath.
No one would have thought less of Eyehategod for calling it a day after that. But the band—no, more like a brotherhood—have refused to break, and they’ve returned with their most ferocious record yet, an appropriate tribute to their lost friend (who tracked all the drums before his death) and a definitive statement of renewal. (Buy it from Amazon.) They’ve got a new home, on Phil Anselmo‘s Housecore Records (though long-time label Century Media is handling the European release), and they’ve chosen to self-title the album, often a sign that a band’s run out of ideas, but in this case it’s a line in the sand: from here on in, this is what matters, and you’d better pay attention.
But that sense of renewal isn’t merely symbolic—the music’s the thing. Sure, the drug-damaged blues of their landmark early records is still the bedrock of their sound, but that dopesick anguish has made way for a much more direct, visceral anger. It’s not so much in the song titles, or Williams’ lyrics (when he sings on “Parish Motel Sickness” that “sometimes I’m stuck together, sometimes I come unglued,” that’s as introspective as they’ve always been) but in their beefed-up presence on record. Undeniably this is the best-recorded Eyehategod album yet; LaCaze’s drums pack a wallop like Mike Tyson attacking a punching bag, while Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton‘s guitars have real volume, not just distortion and loudness, and Williams even “sings” on a handful of numbers in this 11-track set (bassist Gary Mader, a 12-year veteran of the band, makes his album debut here too, holding down the groove throughout).
Things get off to a blistering start with hardcore rager “Agitation! Propaganda!”, where they’re anything but old hands going through the motions. And it only gets better, with the sludge-meets-swing of “Trying to Crack the Hard Dollar,” and the syncopated heavy riffage of “Parish Motel Sickness,” that must set a few hundred heads nodding when they work it out on stage. Next, the standout “Quitter’s Offensive” combines martial stomp in the verse sections with a Tad-esque crunching guitar part in the chorus. “Nobody Told Me” is more Black Sabbath-esque, with sharpened edges, while “Worthless Rescue” is another swampy blues groove that’s too restless for the mire, with a jazzy outro that feeds another driving hardcore blast in “Framed To The Wall.”
As the title suggests, “Robitussin and Rejection” slows things down to a drowsy crawl in that classic Eyehategod style, dripping with their typical misanthropy. But it’s no longer purely self-destructive; whereas in the past, his tuneless wails had no expectation of being heard, here Williams screams furiously so the world will listen. And his ferocity is matched by a snarling riff that bleeds into the album’s longest track, the seven-minute “Flags and Cities Bound,” which again echoes the twin-guitar chainsaw chug of later-period Tad before breaking down in a feedback-drenched fit of exhaustion.
That would be a fitting end, but they’ve still got a couple more left in ’em: “Medicine Noose” is a sludgy swinger that suddenly explodes with punk fury at the halfway mark, and album closer “The Age of Bootcamp” plays like a best-of reprising the record’s highlights, still bursting with fire even as the band bring the riffs down way low; in case you didn’t get the message already, here’s the exclamation point.
When the album’s 45 minutes are up, Eyehategod have made their point pretty damn clear: This isn’t some midlife crisis cash-in, it’s daddy showing you how it’s done.