Label Roundup: Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Before we get started, I’d like to thank W. for inviting me to write my first post, and Joe for graciously agreeing to let me use his toilet as my megaphone.
And now that we’ve gotten the mushy stuff out of the way, let’s talk about Sentient Ruin, because Sentient Ruin rules ass. The label was initially started in 2012 as a way for the Oakland sludge band Abstracter to self-release their material and experiment with DIY. From there it grew into one of the more diverse boutique labels around, boasting a small but formidable lineup of grind, crust, sludge, death and noise bands from all over the world. With only 11 releases since its inception, Sentient Ruin has made the wise choice to focus on quality rather than muddy the waters with mediocrity for the sake of quantity. What we’re left with, then, is a small case of shining jewels where you could just as easily find a warehouse of barely sift-worthy roughage.
So let’s get cracking with our loupes and examine the goods, shall we?
As I said before, Abstracter started Sentient Ruin back in 2012 as a means of running a limited cassette release of their first album Tomb of Feathers, a three track maelstrom of sludged-out riffs tearing through a thick atmosphere of dingy psychedelic doom and post metal. Every note on this thing, even down to the more ethereal instrumental passages, is covered in soot. Vocalist Mattia exudes despair and pain, whether it be in the form of tortured roars or somber, almost chant-like clean singing.
Abstracter’s second album Wound Empire was released back in February and is an improvement on its predecessor in every way. The unruly track lengths have been whittled down, and the result is a more focused and overall tighter record. They’ve also tweaked the production on Wound Empire to incorporate a bit more noise into their sound, which adds some necessary harshness. Mattia’s roars are even more in-your-face, and it seems some of that torture has solidified into pure vitriolic rage. Wound Empire is exactly the kind of album Sentient Ruin needs to put itself on the proverbial map, as it should make its way onto at least a few of the more prominent end of year lists in December. Not that anyone besides posers should care…
Listen patriots, it’s not me who’s choosing to not capitalize American up there. It’s these dirty black metal fucks out of Virginia, whoever they are. While “Jimmy” and “Mike” may not be so keen on God, country, or capitalization, they are quite keen on bludgeoning your soft skull and setting your crust pants on fire with their unique brand of black metal, sludge and noise. Coping With Loss is a perfectly raw and filthy undertaking that vacillates from fast and murky black metal to slow, churning sludge. Take Nux Vomica‘s mix of sounds and chop those massive slabs they call songs into jagged kidney stones and you’re on your way to what Coping With Loss delivers. Cut the 17 minute track of aimless noise and electronics “Coping With Loss and the Insurmountable Guilt of Existing” from the end (they traveled that path brilliantly in the 3 minute instrumental interlude “Pulse Beating Slowly”), and you’ve got a nearly perfect EP of blackened sludge to die to.
Augurs / Deathgrave
Of all the excellent acts signed to Sentient Ruin Labs, Augurs is the most unfuckwithable of the bunch, and they’ve only released four tracks. Tyree wrote a few words about their first EP Old Ways a little while ago. The most recent track, “From Maggots to Flies, ” comes from their March 17th split with grind/crust labelmates Deathgrave. This sonic beatdown shoves sludge-caked grind into a muzzle, shoves the barrel in your mouth and threatens to pull the trigger. But instead of unfettered malevolence, Augurs eases the hammer down about two minutes in and begins weaving together a slow, booming foundation of bass that bolsters simple, elegant atmospheric guitar leads and turns the violence into something else altogether. Despair, or perhaps a sobering dream. And then it all fades into noise and ushers in the no-holds-barred destruction of Deathgrave.
Deathgrave has a much simpler take on this grind game than Augurs. Get in. Fuck shit up. Get out. It works for them on a surface level and these three tracks are as good as any to get the blood pumping and the head banging. I do wish for a little more substance here, but perhaps that’s only because I’m left feeling unsatisfied after the near-death experience unleashed by Augurs at the beginning of the split.
Leucrota is a brand new band out of Santa Cruz who only started playing their first live shows last fall. On February 28, Sentient Ruin released the band’s first demo and consequently bled every metal writers’ ears dry. This is punk, crust and sludge shoved into a blender and set to pulverize. Is there a genre called Caustic Punk? I’m inventing it now. Congratulations, Leucrota, you are the first caustic punk band™. These boys spill acidic venom aged 40 years inside a charcoal barrel all over everything – it’s almost as if the lo-fi production is a result of the music itself disintegrating the studio rather than an aesthetic choice. By the way, this is an old genre of writing called “hyperbole.” Fuck you, listen anyway. And keep an eye on these dudes because you’ll be seeing their names pop up often over the next few years.
Sentient Ruin describes buioingola‘s sound as Italian “neo-crust/gloom-doom.” Italian neo-crust sounds delicious, but I’m not tasting much of it here. Instead Dupo l’apnea – buioingola’s debut album – is a massive, muscular and melancholic thunderhead of ethereal sludge and doom. The torrential downpour of slow, melodic riffs and reverb-soaked roars comes in waves that wash you further and further from the shore as the thunder rolls all around. The more visceral, aggressive moments on songs like “Candida” evoke Winter Hours era Tombs‘ otherworldly blackened post-metal aesthetic that work as an attempt to tether these tracks to the surface. The effort might succeed if not for the 15 minute epic “Oceano” that ends the album and sets in motion its inevitable journey to the bottom of the deepest sea, where the darkness swallows all.