Eyehategod has always been easier to respect than to love. That’s understandable, of course, because at their rawest, the band taps into an uncomfortably visceral place of filth and abjection. Take as Needed for Pain and Dopesick are both timeless documents of antisocial behavior, and Confederacy of Ruined Lives is perhaps the finest album title to have graced this foolish planet in the past two decades. Still, when do you ever need to listen to Eyehategod?
Well, with the band’s newly released self-titled album – and first long player in a whopping fourteen years – the answer to that question is a bit clearer: You need to listen to Eyehategod now.
I don’t want to oversell it. This new album isn’t a revolutionary moment in the history of bad tripping, nihilistic sludge metal. It’s not even the best album that these NOLA lifers have done. Still, you need to listen to Eyehategod now because there’s a ragged, desperate conviction gluing the whole painful racket together that just doesn’t come around that often. Not with tones these loose and songs this lived-in and gnawed-on.
Just like Sabbath before them, Eyehategod’s true lineage is the blues, and as such, these cats know how to swing a riff instead of thwack it straight. Still, what might be Eyehategod’s defining musical characteristic is that their full-ensemble swing is always injected with just enough rigidity that it stays in a place of constant tension, shambling on the border between loose chops and metronomic inflexibility. The overall effect is that of a relaxed gait interrupted by frequent fits of paranoid lurching.
Thankfully, the two other primary components to Eyehategod’s (anti-)charm have been retained to their fullest. Mike Williams’s seething, street corner rambling vocals are recorded so up-close and personal on Eyehategod that you might find yourself wiping your eye for flecks of his venomous bile. Elsewhere, EHG continues to wield feedback like punk bands use power chords: that is, freely, and with great relish. Nearly every bar, every riff, every puke-break pause in the music is held tight and angrily by a red-eyed hum of squealing guitar and amp complaint.
You need to listen to Eyehategod now because listening to blues licks played on abused electric guitars by disaffected guys that sound like they’ve got absolutely piss-all to lose feels great. The existence of these songs – hell, the existence of this band – is predicated on the listener’s willingness to bear witness to civilizational collapse seen through a microcosmic lens of urban decay and human degradation. So, while it’s not exactly easy listening for your summer BBQs, Eyehategod remains a resolutely satisfying – and even confoundingly necessary – proposition because the band holds up a mirror to certain uncomfortable truths: Bad things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. Mostly, bad things happen.
Here in 2014, with this new album and these new songs, Eyehategod’s music feels less hermetically impotent than the band’s landmark early albums. In noticeable, important ways, the misery represented by Eyehategod ca. 2014 feels more approachably communal. The Eyehategod of Take as Needed and In the Name of Suffering was made for shrieking yourself hoarse while staring into a puddle of your own vomit. Here, these songs were made for sharing the shitty times with friends, or at least with others who know what it’s like to have been low.