By Noel Oxford
I’m a big fan of keeping it simple. As much as I like the odd snifter of overwrought jazz wankery, complicated literature and the finest of haute cuisines, you’re equally as likely to find me dining on biscuits in my pants, reading children’s comics and listening to what sounds like a caveman getting bummed off a motorbike.
By which I mean, I like bands that portentously declare they don’t require a certain instrument considered de rigeur by the rest of rock ‘n’ roll, and just jettison it altogether. Your Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, your Black Keys, your Those Poor Bastards; all of them decided a bass player was surplus to requirements. So did the White Stripes, but I don’t like them, so don’t bring them up.
Sardonis, deploying the sort of ruthless Belgian efficiency last witnessed in the aura of one Hercule Poirot, have not only divested themselves of the bassist, but the vocalist too. Any two-piece post-metal/doom instrumental band is going to have its work cut out for it, but bugger me, Sardonis have certainly struck out confidently on their debut album.
Immediately upon auditioning this piece, you will note with alarm the towering wall of sludge, sandwiched with riffs as thick as mortar, oozing terribly out of your speakers. And here, I must clarify a thing. This thing is it: For a metal fan, I am functionally backwards when it comes to guitars. I don’t even know what the strings are for. You might call me ‘guitarded’, if you were loathsome enough.
But I find the absolute fucking racket this fellow wrings out of his guitar completely astonishing. You can begin to see why they didn’t bother with a bass player. He would have quit instantly, his domain completely violated. The sound positively throbs with low-end and, hangover dumps aside, might be the heaviest, densest thing a single man is capable of producing. It’s as if Sunn O))) finally cleared their heads and located their socks for a bit of an amble about.
The drums are similarly herculean, striding deliberately uphill like a fell-walking giant one minute, barrelling downhill like a clown on a runaway tricycle the next, and surfing on a fizzing, ringing wash of crash-ride. These are the two dynamics at work on this album, and the unpredictable shifts between them make for a pretty compelling journey.
Nero d’Avola is a monolithic little cracker, laboriously pulling riffs like knotted rope through the rectum of an atmospheric, slightly spacey intro jam. You owe yourself the inevitable degenerative hearing damage that comes from listening to this on headphones, it is utterly monstrous. By contrast, Thor is a pummelling raucous blast, at least for its first couple of minutes, before it takes stock and mellows out slightly, softening the fuzz for a meander around the frets.
More Severe Things Await is probably the most surprising inclusion here, given its gently urgent acoustic atmospherics, and practically non-existent drumwork. If this record is a box of fudge, then this tune is the little layer of chocolate on top. If you see what I mean.
The operative word here is ‘texture’. Like the best examples of drone, what Sardonis give you is a sound you can get utterly, irretrievably lost inside, discovering more crannies and folds all the while. When such a sound is pressed into servicing riffs and dynamics as toothsome as these, you end up with something rare indeed.