Playlist: Noise Rock & Sludge Metal

Playlist: Noise Rock & Sludge Metal

· music · playlists
Scare up a good time with your favorite band’s favorite bands. Rock out with Boris, the Melvins, Chat Pile, the Jesus Lizard, Brainiac, Torche, KENmode & more.

Grab some boots, your true wireless earbuds and a shovel this Halloween. We’re digging up the scariest riffs in underground sludge metal and noise rock.

Instead of our usual graveyard romp—though if you’re looking to listen to something more traditionally Halloween-y, you can find that here—we’re taking a sonic detour through riff-filled lands to conjure up the gnarliest, most extreme bummer rock vibes we can muster. It’s a gritty true crime marathon for your ears.

By day, some of these bands work normal jobs. They could be your co-workers or neighbors. But after dark, they’re haunting dive bar basements, DIY venues, theaters and festival stages with terrifying (often detuned) dissonance and punishing drum and bass action. It’s the opposite of easy listening.

Meet us after midnight at the crossroads of Black Sabbath, Black Flag and Big Black and let’s scare up a good time with your favorite band’s favorite bands.

Press play to tune low, play slow and bang your head…if you dare.

KENmode — “Feathers and Lips”

Winnipeg noise-metal maniacs KENmode scare the pants right off of us with punishing sludge riffage, whiplash-inducing blasts of hardcore punk fury and the bitter, blood curdling howl of vocalist/guitarist Jesse Matthewsen on “Feathers and Lips,” from 2018’s Loved. Matthewsen screams his head off on this face-melting hybrid of post-hardcore and noise-metal that’s messier than the famous “chestburster” scene in Alien—you know the one.

KENmode’s brutal touring schedule burns through bassists faster than Spinal Tap and the Melvins combined, but the band’s abrasive, nose-to-the-grindstone metal is beloved in their Canadian home. In 2012, KENmode’s album Venerable won the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences’ JUNO Award for Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year—the first of four nominations.

Unsane — “No Chance”

NYC’s Unsane crashed the scene at CBGB’s way back in 1988 with a visceral, metallic bang and clatter. They fused the harsh dissonance of their contemporaries in bands like Swans, Helmet and Sonic Youth with the swampy dirges of Nick Cave’s pre-Bad Seeds outfit the Birthday Party.

On “No Chance,” from 2012’s Wreck, Unsane drops the tempo and the tuning of their guitars to bring the noise on a grimy, abrasive, harsh and surprisingly bluesy sludge metal stomper. Nothing can prepare you for the harmonica solo.

Chat Pile — “Slaughterhouse”

Named for the mountains of toxic lead-zinc mining waste common to northeastern Oklahoma, new-school noise rock/sludge metal monoliths Chat Pile give new meaning to the word terrifying. With ‘90s nostalgia on the rise—cavernous production quality that smears queasy, screeching guitar across your earbuds—it was only a matter of time before Chat Pile set the world on fire.

Chat Pile’s chilling debut album God’s Country (2022) terrorized the Apple Music charts, where it peaked at number 21. In a review for Pitchfork, which bestowed God’s Country with its coveted “Best New Music” title, critic Philip Sherbourne calls the album “a vivid rendering of the towering piles of poison littering America’s psychic landscape.”

“Slaughterhouse” begins with the wet, reverberating smack of Chat Pile’s drummer—performing under the pseudonym Cap’n Ron—pummeling the kit into dust using sledgehammers for drumsticks. Vocalist Raygun Busch (also a pseudonym, we’re pretty sure) growls and screeches through mouthfuls of dirt like he’s being buried alive. And the bass? You’ll feel it.

OM — “State of Non-Return”

Having conquered the riff-filled lands with stoner metal sonic titans Sleep, bassist/vocalist Al Cisneros departed for the next leg of his sludgy and psychedelic vision quest with the drone/doom duo, OM.

“State of Non-Return” from OM’s 2012 album Advaitic Songs fuses immense fuzz bass guitar riffage with piano and strings to mesmerizing effect. Cisneros’ hypnotic vocals are the ideal companion for OM’s globetrotting spirit metal odyssey.

The Jesus Lizard — “Monkey Trick”

Influencing everyone from NOPE director Jordan Peele to KENmode to The Get Up Kids, Chicago/Austin noise-rock quartet The Jesus Lizard ripped the ‘90s grunge script to pieces with their bizarre, horrifying and often amusing industrial-tinged racket.

Across six albums, The Jesus Lizard mashed wiry, minimalist post-punk brutalism with flashy “Chet Atkins, but make it weird” rockabilly-jazz licks and the creepy, antagonistic, borderline-NSFW performance art antics of vocalist David Yow—who, by the way, is also an actor.

With these powers combined, the Jesus Lizard stage dive headfirst into the year punk broke with “Monkey Trick,” from their 1991 album, Goat. Yow’s muffled, claustrophobic vocal overdubs climax with a larynx-shredding outburst that kicks off an aggressive call-and-response with Duane Denison’s devious and downright devilish guitar licks.

mclusky — “To Hell with Good Intentions”

Here’s a song to blow out your speakers and peel the paint off the wall. Nobody has more fun—or a better drum sound—than Welsh post-hardcore trio mclusky (all lowercase) do on “To Hell with Good Intentions,” a cheeky bit of rowdy and rockin’ comic relief from their critically acclaimed but criminally underappreciated sophomore album Mclusky Do Dallas (2001).

With arguably the catchiest one-note bass riff in rock and singer/guitarist Andy Falkous’ unmistakable squall (which could refer to his guitar playing or vocal delivery—readers’ choice), mclusky push the loud/quiet dynamic of bands like Nirvana and the Pixies one louder with sardonic, confrontational and confounding humor, because, after all, it’s only rock and roll.

Torche — “Healer”

Florida sludge-pop masterminds Torche unleash their patented “bomb string” on the explosive “Healer,” from their 2008 album Meanderthal.

We know what you’re thinking: what’s a bomb string?

In a 2010 profile, music writer Matt Sullivan at Nashville Scene explains how Torche vocalist/guitarist Steve Brooks manages to go one louder…and one lower:

…where a lot of bands [seek] extra heaviness by tuning their guitars down from the standard E to D or C, guitarist Steve Brooks calls his lowest string the "bomb string," which he jokes is tuned to Z. It's actually a bass string that's more or less tuned to the lowest discernible note — the sludge-metal equivalent of going to 11.

Listening to “Healer” on a set of good true wireless earbuds, with its crushing yet crisp production from Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, you can almost feel the bomb string flapping away, tuned all the way down to low Z.

Botch — “One Twenty Two”

Anyone who saw Tacoma’s sludgy post-hardcore luminaries Botch during their initial 1993-2002 run might want to schedule a chiropractor appointment before trying spin kicks in the pit for “One Twenty Two.” The surprise 2022 one-off “not quite a reunion” track from the PNW mathcore pioneers arrived earlier this year to commemorate the 20th-anniversary reissue of Botch’s landmark LP, 1999’s We Are the Romans.

While the band currently has no plans for a full reunion tour or album, fans can catch bassist Brian Cook on the road with Russian Circles, Sumac and These Arms are Snakes. And guitarist David Knudson (also a founding member of the mathy indie-pop outfit Minus the Bear) recently released his first solo album—the writing sessions for which inspired this all-too-brief Botch reunion, which we love and support even if it’s only happening on Spotify (for now).

Melvins — “A History of Bad Men”

Before grunge, before noise rock and before sludge metal, there was Melvins. Since 1983, vocalist/guitarist Buzz Osbourne, drummer Dale Crover plus a revolving door of bassists, auxiliary members, and collaborators have defined and redefined the sound of American underground rock music.

On “A History of Bad Men,” from the 2006 album A Senile Animal, bassist Jared Warren (KARP, Big Business) and bonus drummer Coady Willis (Big Business, The Murder City Devils) complete what we’re calling the “classic dual-drummer era” of Melvins with aplomb.

Jucifer — “Amplifier”

If you build it, they will come. And then you have to tear it all down and put it back in the trailer. We’re talking, of course, about The White Wall of Death, the immense speaker setup employed by Jucifer’s Gazelle Amber Valentine.

Besides being perhaps the most brutal duo of sludge metal spouses in the scene, the husband-and-wife pair of Valentine (vocals/guitar) and Edgar Livengood (drums) are known for their “nomadic” touring schedule. Since 2000, Jucifer has been on the road 24/7/365—long before #vanlife was a thing.

The pair live in their RV, dubbed the “Nomadic Fortress” (Jucifer has a gift for sweet nicknames) and perform almost daily, spending hours each day building The White Wall of Death to ear-shattering perfection. On “Amplifier,” from 2002’s I Name You Destroyer, Jucifer rock hard enough to wake the Grateful Deaf.

Intended to be experienced through earplugs, Jucifer’s intense live show is loud enough to make Lemmy blush and the band’s always-on, high-volume lifestyle provided the inspiration for 2021’s Sound of Metalthe harrowing, Oscar-winning drama about an extreme metal duo whose drummer loses his hearing. For music lovers, there’s nothing scarier.

Melt-Banana — “Shield for Your Eyes, a Beast in the Well on Your Hand”

Japan’s Melt-Banana take an unlikely combination of electro-pop, noise rock, grindcore and uh, whatever those laser sounds are to the extreme on “Shield for Your Eyes, a Beast in the Well on Your Hand,” a standout track from the veteran experimental outfit’s 2003 album, Cell-Scape.

About those laser sounds: guitarist Ichiro Agata “[draws] inspiration from the feelings of triumph, excitement and peril he experiences through various video games,” claiming that Demon’s Souls, Shadow of the Colossus, Ecco the Dolphin and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 spark his over-the-top effects pedal tricks and logic-defying fretboard speedruns.

A Place to Bury Strangers — “Straight”

We won’t even pretend like we know how vocalist/guitarist/producer Oliver Ackermann of A Place to Bury Strangers creates the practically indescribable sounds heard on “Straight,” a bouncy cut of fuzzy, ear-splitting industrial/experimental dance-punk from APTBS’ 2015 album Transfixiation.

In a 2021 podcast interview with Wastoids, Ackermann—who is also the founder of the DIY effects pedal company Death By Audio—explains the Particle Wave Refractor, his unpredictable, one-of-a-kind, handbuilt multi-effect synthesizer designed to inject an extra dose of chaos into APTBS’ wild sound.

Boris — “Huge”

At twenty albums and counting, the pace—and quality—of Boris’ studio output is as unrelenting as their riffs. Which are brutal.

The prolific Japanese experimental doom/sludge trio prefer to record live, at unrelentingly loud volume, and with as few overdubs as possible. Listening to “Huge” from Boris’ 1998 album Amplifier Worship in a set of good earbuds, you can hear every piece of equipment between the guitar and the tape machine howling in pain as each new fuzzed-out power chord threatens to rip the speakers to shreds.

Brainiac — “1 AM A CRACK3D MACHIN3”

In 1996, Dayton, Ohio’s Brainiac sounded like a band from the future. That’s no accident. “The idea was to make pop music that sounded futuristic so it wouldn’t sound dated," says Brainiac vocalist/keyboardist Tim Taylor in a 1996 interview. It worked. More than twenty-five years after the release of their final LP, Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, nobody sounds like Brainiac.

After three LPs on indie label Touch & Go, the mechanized midwestern alt-rock quartet signed to Interscope Records and were on the verge of mainstream success after appearances at Lollapalooza and opening slots for Beck, the Breeders and the Jesus Lizard elevated Brainiac’s profile. Could Brainiac be “the next Nirvana?”

The question remains unanswered after Tim Taylor’s tragic death in a 1997 car accident, but Brainiac’s influence lives on across genres. Trent Reznor, Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla, The Mars Volta and Matt Bellamy of Muse have all cited Brainiac as an inspiration.

After a popular documentary and a string of reunion dates featuring guest vocalists in 2019, Brainiac announced their first full tour since the ‘90s—a February 2023 UK run opening for Mogwai.

Hear and feel the difference.

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