Published Jun 08, 2020Following another one of their typical three- to four-year lapses between records, SoCal sludge metal pioneers -(16)- return like clockwork with another heady scorcher, Dream Squasher. Following the departure of founding vocalist Cris Jerue, the record finds guitarist Bobby Ferry stepping up to the mic for the first time in nearly 30 years. His tortured caterwaul, born of anguish and acrimony, adds a different colour to the negativity, but it's new lead guitarist Alex Shuster who augments the proceedings with real solos and a plethora of riffs and rhythms that effectively steer the band into another sonic direction.
The throbbing openers "Candy in Spanish" and "Me and the Dog Die Together" offer what fans have come to expect from post-breakup -(16)- and the musical changes initiated with 2009's Bridges to Burn: jagged, bottom-heavy dredging and loathsome vocals. But "Sadlands" is a completely different beast, resembling a traditional doom rock cut with prominent organ as if Katatonia were jamming with Uncle Acid. "Harvester of Fabrication" hearkens back to the band's early '90s catalogue with its Helmet-like riffs and Ferry's crawling vocal growls.
The Mournful Congregation-meets-Sabbath "Acid Tongue" displays another facet of this new lineup with sculptor-esque precision. Jon Voight's poignant lines from Runaway Train are used as background samples, which heighten the palpable and painful ennui. "Ride the Waves" is the most diverse cut here, with multiple time changes, inventive riffing and exuberantly brutal fills riveted by drummer Dion Thurman. "Kissing the Choir Boy" is almost triumphant with its heavy Baroness nods and chanted, background vocals.
It's not their 1996 classic Drop Out, it's not their incredible 2002 comeback Zoloft Smile, and it's not even their previous album, 2016's Lifespan of a Moth. This is a new band that mixes the old, Melvins-esque sludge with novel, varied inspiration. Despondent hardcore for a terror-stricken world, -(16)- see straight through today's torment and hypocrisy to the true cores of seething anger and white-knuckled antagonism. (Relapse)