Home Music Eyehategod: A History of Nomadic Behavior

Eyehategod: A History of Nomadic Behavior

You can tell a lot about the travails that New Orleans sludge innovators Eyehategod have endured simply by looking at their paltry output over a three-decade history. Spiraling drug addictions and internal tensions put the band on loose hiatus after releasing only four albums before the combined impact of Hurricane Katrina and singer Mike IX Williams’ narcotics arrest threw things into further disarray. After years of sobriety and pursuing other projects, the members got together to record a comeback, only for drummer Joey LaCaze to die of respiratory failure before the band’s barnstorming self-titled 2014 album boldly put them back on the map. And then, when it seemed like the band might finally be able to crawl back to their rightful place among sludge metal’s titans, Williams had to undergo a liver transplant from a life of hard-living. During the downtime of Williams’ recovery, longtime guitarist Brian Patton left the group, leaving Jimmy Bower to soldier on as the band’s sole axeman. After recovering and planning a new album and tour, Eyehategod at last got hit with the injunction that hit every band last year, the Covid-19 pandemic.

And so, the band’s much-belated sixth LP, A History of Nomadic Behavior, carries so much baggage on its shoulders that the squeal of feedback that splits open into the stumbling riff on “Built Beneath the Lies” cannot help but feel like a punch-drunk reaction to the last half-decade of setback. “Plate glass shatters in my head/ Talk is cheap for what it’s worth,” rasps Williams in his trademark shredded-larynx hiss. The singer’s pent-up anger over his addiction and the many run-ins with the law it gave him inform the ferocity of the track, but something else is immediately noticeable here that is new to Eyehategod’s discography: legibility. Sludge has always specialized in reflecting the filthy connotations of its genre tag, with guitars so distorted and volume-boosted that everything is lost in a haze of doomy punk. This is especially true of Eyehategod, whom have always embodied their bleak outlook on life by sounding like they were being recorded from down in a mass pauper’s grave. Here, though, all elements sound shockingly clean, or at least as clean as anything like this can. Bower’s guitar still sounds like it can induce tinnitus even at reasonable headphones volume, and rhythm section Gary Mader and Aaron Hill lay down a tar-pit-thick stomp, but all of the instruments are clearly separated, and you can even follow Williams’ singing without the need of a lyric sheet.

This cleaned-up production works for and against the band. On the plus side, Eyehategod have always been more sophisticated than their image would have you believe, and to be able to hear the smooth transitions in their riffs clearly for the first time shows off a lifetime of development both within the band and among the members’ many collaborative projects. Bower especially brings his years of work in Down into the mix here with unpredictable swerves and anthemic riffs that turn Eyehategod from a band you listen to with your head lolling down toward the floor into a moshable property. “The Outer Banks” gallops forward as a bracing reminder that while sludge is most known for its plodding tempos, Black Flag is as crucial to its DNA as Black Sabbath. This is brought into even sharper focus on “Three Black Eyes,” which strikes a perfect balance between doom-blues swagger and intense, sprinting energy by setting Hill’s driving snare attacks against Bower and Mader’s guitars cresting and ebbing like tidal waves made of feedback.

Where things can start to fall apart is the occasional thinness that creeps into the mix at the worst times. “Current Situation” devotes its first minute to blistering feedback and should be absolutely skull-rattling, but instead it just sounds tinny and flat, which robs the rest of the song of its momentum. “Anemic Robotic” unfortunately lives up to its namesake by undercutting the spittle-flecked fury of Williams’ demented tone poetry of lines like “Stabbing into corners blind/ Trigger for a real disconnect, this time.” At times, though, this sporadic flimsiness can add to the atmosphere, as on album highlight “Circle of Nerves,” in which the clear production leaves each instrument so separated that the mix accurately reflects the fraying sanity intimated by the lyrics, adding stark impact to Williams screaming “I live in a hole in the ground.”

For every sharp lyrical image like that, though, there is at least another that falls flat. Given the decade of painful health and death setbacks that stalled Eyehategod’s putative comeback of the 2010s, you might think that a band renowned for its nihilistic visions of social and physical decay would have some of its gnarliest and most harrowing lyrics yet. Surprisingly, though, a significant chunk of the album is given over to “take this job and shove it” angst, especially on the limp closer “Every Thing, Every Day,” one of the weakest tracks in the Eyehategod canon as Williams repetitively barks “Go to work/ Go to school/ Every day” ad nauseam over a clumsy riff. The track is so dull that even the singer’s closing shout “Kill your boss!” fails to elicit any kind of anthemic punk thrill. It’s also an odd song for a band that has spent so much of its history embodying a social strata even lower than working class; what should be a snarling attack on normalcy sounds, in the context of the band’s canon of burnouts and drug casualties, almost a quotidian upgrade.

At its best, though, A History of Nomadic Behavior genuinely challenges Eyehategod and pushes them in new directions. They sound honed and sharpened here, which lets them try new things, nowhere more so than “The Trial of Johnny Cancer,” the band’s curious stab at Nick Cave-esque Gothic drama that blends spoken-word, found sound and riffs that verge on post-rock in moments of atonal squall. But then things are brought crashing back down to Earth by the macabre humor and fatalistic observations of Williams’ lyrics like “Another funeral ends in a fight/ The undertaker tells jokes/ A comedian he is not.” A bizarre outlier in Eyehategod’s work, the track nonetheless epitomizes what makes this LP a worthy, if somewhat muted successor to their would-be comeback record. Here’s hoping they can keep up their momentum this time.

The cleanest sounding Eyehategod album to date finds the much-beleaguered sludge legends attempting to make up for lost time with another heap of belligerent hardcore metal.
65 %
Polished filth
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