[Cover art by Terry Grow]
If I told you there’s a sludge band from Louisiana that you need to check out, you would probably assume they sound like Eyehategod, Crowbar, or perhaps Soilent Green. But while there’s no denying the swampy power of their forebearers, Lafayette duo Radiant Knife brings a progressive edge and ear for experimentation that sets them apart. In fact, despite thick, heavy riffage, there’s a certain lightness to Radiant Knife’s approach.
Sludge is now a global phenomenon, but I’d argue no one did it better than those aforementioned Southerners, especially Eyehategod. There’s just something about the suffocating humidity of the swamp, and the pain of hard living, poverty, and addiction that breathes soul into the riffs and lyrics of sludge metal’s greats. But with the genre so clearly mapped and perfected (as much as any genre can ever be perfect), what is a Louisianian metalhead to do? Explore, of course! Acknowledge the past, and disregard the playbook for the fertile pastures of, well, wherever Radiant Knife decides to go.
On their last full length, 2017’s Science Fiction, Radiant Knife put together 46 minutes of progressive, sludgy metal, without once sounding like a tired retread of capitalized genres like Progressive Metal or Sludge Metal. The pair have their own path to walk, and they do so boldly. There are enough well-executed ideas that Science Fiction feels more succinct than it really is, and that strong songwriting continues to serve the band well.
Fast forward to 2020, and Radiant Knife have created a two-part work where The Body is the shampoo, and The Ghost is the conditioner. You can use them separately, but they’re best combined and don’t really work in reverse order. Plenty of bands exit a recording session claiming to have too much material (aka the inability to self-edit), or enough stylistically diverse songs that separate releases are warranted (which is how we got the incredible combo of Damnation and Deliverance). But Radiant Knife really just created two complementary EPs, expertly trimmed down to less than hour total.
It’s the little touches that give The Body depth, such as the shimmering, sustained synth chords on “Time” and “The Beast,” or the slick cymbal patterns and poisonous growls of “GTFO.” The riffage is meaty and technical, without being flashy. With only five songs and 22 minutes of music, Radiant Knife demonstrates the efficiency of the EP format.
The punchy riffs and rumbling double bass of The Body’s closer “From Dust,” are some of the heaviest they’ve put to tape. The juxtaposition with reverbed vocals and dreamy riffs is reminiscent of another Deep South sludge/grunge/rock alchemical unit, Kylesa, and hints at the lighter music to come on The Ghost.
Stephen Sheppert’s singing voice is similar to Mastodon’s Brann Dailor or Philip Cope of Kylesa. Unpolished, but passionate and strong enough to take the center stage and drive the more mellow music forward. The grunge influences put Radiant Knife further out of the metal arena and into a rock one, but rest assured that even though their sound would easily fill a stadium, Radiant Knife are a smoky dive bar sort of band. There’s an inviting intimacy to their tracks, demanding your attention and pulling you to the front of the small stage. The Ghost’s opener “The Grand Decay” balances heavy, Alice in Chains-esque riffage with soaring rock vocals. We shan’t compare to Layne Stayley and raise unreasonable expectations, but the spirit of that Seattle sound is with us.
I will likely return to The Body (or Science Fiction) more often, and rebelliously skip The Ghost — merely a personal preference than a knock against the lighter of the two releases — but Radiant Knife has added lightness and progressed out of Louisiana’s sludgy swamps, brilliantly incorporating grunge and following the riffs wherever they may go.