Review by Rosh on September 9, 2023.
Sludge, more than any other style of metal, thrives on an impoverished and dingy feel that sets the backdrop for a crabby and burned out attitude towards the oppressive world at large, distinguished by a serial inability to avoid derailing setbacks, including encounters with the law and penultimate kidney failure. Eventually, though, all the suffering proves ineffectual at crippling the southern porch-dweller's indomitable willpower, or rather, futile at penetrating their opaque numbness to misery. And really speaking, substance abuse aside, it can be said that the sludge pioneers had their ways of coping with poverty and dejection, namely through playing appropriately sleazy music and getting into unscheduled skirmishes on the side of the road with white-collar douchebags.
Dave "Dixie" Collins' Weedeater, the project he shifted his attention towards after the breakup of seminal sludge band Buzzoven, is far too underrated in this field, most likely because it's not something most healthy people actively seek to indulge in. Weedeater's brilliantly titled debut album, 2001's ...And Justice For Y'all from Game Two Records has, in time, become a classic of the stoner/sludge genre, but back then it was just another example of doom's increasingly cannabis-oriented approach circa the late 90's/early 00's, found among many other labels such as Rise Above, Man's Ruin, and Southern Lord, to name a few. Really, it wasn't until the Season Of Mist reissues of Weedeater's back catalogue came out in 2014 that they became recognized as one of the premier bands of the style, and then only for their debut and their 2007 comeback effort God Luck & Good Speed. In between those popular records, though, sandwiched like the marshmallow in a stale moon pie, you'll find a rather (in)complete package of stoner/sludge in 2002's Sixteen Tons. While not perfect, what with its less exciting attempts at structure and direction towards the middle (this music is supposed to serve time in the middle of nowhere, not lead to epiphany), Sixteen Tons offers up something special in its griminess and general (lack of) attention to detail.
First of all, if I didn't know what "sludge" metal was by definition, a fusion of doom metal, hardcore, and in this case stoner rock, I'd most likely still describe this music as "sludge metal", because that's what it sounds like, with the cheaper-than-dirt guitar and bass tone that makes Born Too Late sound smooth and silky, and Dixie's abrasive, sandpaper-in-throat vocals. The loose working man's blues of cuts like 'Potbelly' that make sludge metal feel carefree, dare I say "fun", are well balanced against the decrepit dirges of songs like 'Bull' and 'Dummy', which are just a notch less suffocating than bands like Grief or Noothgrush. Sabbathian grooves are nonetheless abundant, spicing up the riffs in the sample-heavy '#3' and the more up-tempo 'Lines'. The former 2-minute jam leads into the one track I have mixed feelings about, that being the mellow porch-rocking-chair ballad 'Woe's Me', which is effective at conveying the burned-out hick's activities around late-afternoon once the shotguns have been cleaned and the dogs fed, but the thing is I'd rather BE accidentally shooting my toe off with a shotgun to grumpy sludge metal than be icing it with a cool can of RC cola afterwards. Sorry, Dixie.
Honestly, though, another thing that makes this band feel so underrated to me is the fact that they capture the distinct swing of classic sludge metal tracks like 'Sister Fucker (Pt. 1)' and 'The Blue' so regularly that you know they payed close attention to the parent records of those tunes in their formative years, yet they still have the occasional southern-fried Electric Wizard or Cathedral riff, like on the song called, well, 'Riff'. Album closer 'Kira May' is also actually a lot more successful at what it tries to do than 'Woe's Me', thanks to more prominent bass work and the lack of vocals, as well as by virtue of it being the final track.
Overall, Sixteen Tons is a relevant album to the entire doom genre and a minor classic of the style, being far more authentic and tastefully tasteless than the countless "bong" clones this band and Bongzilla seem to have inspired, who for some reason overshadow masterful modern traditional doom like Iron Void or The Wandering Midget. It's also an interesting snapshot of doom around this time period, since by this point circa 2002, doom metal had already been around for 20-30 years (depending on whether you mark Black Sabbath as the birth of doom as a distinct subgenre of metal, or bestow that honor upon the debuts of bands like Pentagram and Saint Vitus) and stoner and sludge metal had already been around for 10. And yet, there was this crop of now somewhat classic bands in this span of years that combined all three into something so filthy that it's almost surprising when you realize it's a gem to be unearthed. All in all, solid sludge.
Rating: 8.7 out of 10292