Minor Fret: An Exercise in Straight Sludge
Today I want to discuss two artists on seemingly opposite ends of the musical spectrum and the one band that has tied them together. I believe it was my junior year of high school when I purchased Sleep‘s Holy Mountain and not long after, Minor Threat‘s Complete Discography. Both works widely celebrated as seminal pieces in two distinctly different subcultures, but in my mind there was only one subculture: good music.
Doom metal has always been present in my life. I have been listening to Black Sabbath for as long as I can remember. Hell, I have home videos of two year old Boss the Ross headbanging to Paranoid. I did not realize Doom was its own distinct sub-genre, however, until listening to Holy Mountain. The slowness and heaviness overwhelmed me; I felt like Giles Corey at his time of death. “More weight!” I declared. And more weight I received. From this album I delved deeper and deeper into Doom and by proxy Sludge. Electric Wizard, Kyuss, Boris, Melvins, Saint Vitus, Crowbar and multiple other bands united under my banner of DOOM. Holy Mountain has been and will always remain one of my go-to albums. The atmosphere entranced me. The depth intrigued me. The almighty RIFF absorbed me. I was one with the nothingness; I oozed into the walls of my bedroom and melted into oblivion. I drifted into deep space and rode the dragon towards the crimson light. Despite the fact that Sleep’s weedian lyrics are some of my favorite and I believe Dopesmoker is an epic of our times, as someone that did not partake in their sacred herb it was hard to connect with the lyrics past simple enjoyment.
At the same time, however, Punk and Hardcore were becoming more and more appealing to me (my music choices suffer from dissociative identity disorder at times, so just bare with me).
Up until the Summer before my junior year I was the “metal or death!” kid. If it wasn’t metal, few bands notwithstanding, I didn’t want anything to do with it. Punk? It sucked for all I cared. Please excuse my naiveté, for I was young and dumb. One day I realized how truly ridiculous I was being and decided to take a leap of faith. That leap was Ramones‘ self titled album. My world was turned upside down. It was fast, aggressive and had nonsensical lyrics. I was sold. Fast forward to a month or so after I got Holy Mountain, and in my hands you find Minor Threat’s Complete Discography. I already listened to Black Flag and Bad Brains and adored them both, so it was the next logical step in my hardcore journey. From the opening chord and bass rumble on “Filler” I was floored for the next 45 minutes. Ian MacKaye’s primal shouts of lifestyle choices and being sick of people connected with me on a deep level. It was then that I realized I was Straight Edge, but up until that time, didn’t know what to call myself (yes, the guy listening to Electric Wizard and Sleep was straight edge). However, while I was connecting with Minor Threat’s lyrics, I still enjoyed the churning heaviness of Sleep and Doom more so than the unbridled assault that was Hardcore.
An Aside: I would like to take a moment here to clarify some things. Yes, I was Straight Edge. No, I was not one of the beer pouring, joint flicking, vegan STRAIGHTFUCKINGEDGE types. I was more of the, “This is my lifestyle choice, you can have yours, we can still be friends” type, the way it should be. Right now you are probably saying to yourself, “This dude talks about beer all the time. What gives?” That is because beer is delicious, and because of that I am no longer considered Straight Edge. That doesn’t stop me from enjoying some killer music though. Anyways, back to the article at hand and the point of all these words.
Years went by, and I always listened to each of the aforementioned genres/albums in different frames of mind. Dopesmoker doesn’t quite mesh with Out of Step, ideologically or musically. Then one day when I was scouring our beloved Bandcamp I came across an EP entitled Four by a group called Minor Fret. The name is what grabbed my attention, but then I saw the artwork, then the tracklist. “Cool, a Minor Threat cover band.” I stabbed play, and a thick, crushing, wall of sound hit me square in the face. What had I discovered? It wasn’t natural and most certainly not your normal cover band. This was the sound of Minor Threat raised in the swamps of Louisiana, filtered through a Melvins and Electric Wizard brand of Sludge. I could not control my excitement. The next ten minutes enthralled me with such wonder that I can hardly explain it. One of my most adored hardcore bands was being torn apart, slowed down and revamped with a new sound that I absolutely loved.
Musically this EP, in my opinion, is perfection. Rob Lovell, guitar/bass/drums, blurs the line between Hardcore and Sludge effortlessly. His attack on his instruments has the ferocity of Hardcore; he is slamming the drums with heavy hands and pounding out guitar and bass lines with hammer-like downstrokes. At the same time he is utilizing intricate nuances and variations that are found in Doom and Sludge. Listen to the main riff of “Straight Edge;” he replaces Lyle Preslar’s frantic chord attack with Matt Pike‘s slow string bending chords that really let the music sink into your skin. On top of the slow, pulsing music Aaron Edge delivers a praise-worthy vocal performance. He shouts Ian MacKaye’s lyrics with the animosity of Mike Williams, and his conviction helps in driving the point home. This EP really is a stepping stone (get it?) for both Straight Edge and Sludge. Straight Edge usually has a “fast and loud, in your face” approach while Sludge’s lyrical content is normally fueled by self anguish. The dichotomy has been broken, and now the two sides stand as one in this 10 minute excursion.
This is one of my favorite releases, period. It truly crosses boundaries that I never thought possible and ties together two of my favorite genres. The positive mental attitude that is Minor Threat meets the eternal RIFF that is Sleep, a match made perfectly for me.
Four could very well be a on- time occurrence, but personally I would not mind a continuation of Minor Fret. In the ten minute run time of Minor Threat’s EP, they only covered four of the eight songs, almost a tease. My hopes are for a full cover of the EP and possibly an Out of Step cover album. Perhaps even a thirty minute hardcore-infused Dopesmoker can be in the works later down the road. But that could be asking for too much.