Think of “modern metal” (as a style rather than just anything from the last decade or two) and you’ll likely think of something from a handful of different types: melodic death metal, groove metal, metalcore, maybe even some kind of alt. metal. It’s also sadly common for such artists to restrict themselves to just that: this is a metalcore song on a metalcore album by a metalcore band.
It’s here where Sludgehammer manage to break away from some of these unfortunate tendencies. While Antechamber is certainly very much a modern metal album, it doesn’t tie itself rigidly to any one single style or set of influences. Instead, Sludgehammer manage to bring together a lot of different recognisable bits and pieces from the spectrum, and produce something with a rewarding degree of variety.
To be clear, Antechamber isn’t some progressive or avant-garde experiment. The constituent parts that make it up are all tried and tested, but both within the album as a whole and the songs themselves, the band is clearly quite comfortable shifting from one thing to the other with ease.
At the core it’s a melodeath approach, often contrasting harsher and softer parts, with a willingness to ramp up the pace in common with the likes of The Haunted or DevilDriver. But to sum it up as simply as that is doing the album a disservice. “No Control” and “Broken Sea” ground themselves in crushing chugs and stomps; “Forsaken Souls” wields an unrelenting death metal artillery barrage; album closer “Line ‘em Up” has enough high-octane arse-kicking to satisfy the thrash fan in me. The whispered intro and nodding, fluid pacing of “Balance of Life” even calls Disturbed to mind, while “The Long Road”s heavy use of melody contrasting against more aggressive sections would do Shadows Fall proud.
The vocals echo this variety, shifting with apparent ease from low death gurgles to cleaner-yet-still-rough cries that would fit in nicely with power-thrash. “Supernova Silhouette” in particular makes good use of these. The whole track highlights the shifting clean-harsh dynamic in a way not far from Scar Symmetry at their best.
As has hopefully come across in the paragraphs above, it’s the variety that really sells Antechamber. Again, nothing here is truly unique, but it’s all put together with a confidence and freedom that’s often refreshing. Scatter in a few more focused and ambitious tracks next time, and Sludgehammer could really make a good name for themselves.
Speaking of which, I love the band name, but I’m still a little disappointed it isn’t a sludge metal band…