I’ve spent quite a lot of time revisiting Eyehategod in the past few weeks — more than I’ve listened to them in probably a decade, I must admit, and maybe longer. As I listen to this latest offering, I find myself coming back to one point, to a fleeting feeling that’s tied to the album’s opening line:
Way back when, Eyehategod’s now-classic third album Dopesick opened with feral screams and smashing glass, the latter a bit of foley sound performed live in the studio by vocalist Mike Williams, who cut his hand badly and bled all over the studio in the undoubtedly unsober process. Now, 25 years later, this newest Eyehategod begins with Williams screaming about broken glass. Back then, they were living broken glass in the real world, creating their own destruction. They were a band famously immersed in their addictions and antisocial behavior. Now they’ve taken that into the abstract; they’re telling us about breaking glass instead of breaking it before us. It’s a small point, but it’s also a big one. Now their innate destructive tendency is intangible, virtual, internal vs. external. It’s the word, and not the deed…
So what does this have to do with A History Of Nomadic Behavior, aside from a few lines of lyrics? Pound for pound, Nomadic Behavior shows a cleaner Eyehategod, for all the good and bad that that entails. Most immediately noticeable, Williams’ vocals are more intelligible and more upfront in the mix. Instead of the hoarse, bellowing, sidewalk-lunatic ranting he brought to the classic EHG albums, he’s now more like the muttering bum outside your office building. He’s still talking craziness, disjointed images of the disturbing, but the result feels less dangerous than the Dopesick druggie covered in vomit and blood. You still wouldn’t invite this new bum to dinner, but you probably won’t call the cops on him first thing either.
Nomadic Behavior’s production falls in line with that. It’s not a complete overhaul, mind you, but a clean-up job to scrape away layers of scum. Despite their reputation for madness, Eyehategod is a band of professional miscreants, so they know their business and their sound, and they’ve made a record that fundamentally fits within that. Structurally, Nomadic is a sludge record, with songs built out of broken Black Flag hardcore and bluesy Black Sabbath doom and crusty black tar ugliness. Riffs twist and bend in unnatural ways; tempos shift sideways, lurch forward, collapse backwards; Bowers’ guitars are pushed to maximum volume, thick and greasy and feeding back at every turn. It’s a shambolic sound, a portrait of deconstruction and reconstruction.
But it’s also very much a portrait of monotony, because, in practice, Nomadic relies too much on stuttering trudge to get its sludgy point across. Too much of it is built of shards of stoner-ish riffs glued together with Williams’ madman musings, and too little of it courts the amphetamine-fueled punk bits that better balanced the smack-addled stumbling before. Parts of this Behavior catch fire, like the chunky heft of “The Outer Banks” or “High Risk Trigger,” but as much of it doesn’t, as in the drudgery of “The Trial Of Johnny Cancer” or the preceding “The Day Felt Wrong,” the tandem that makes up the album’s midpoint and also the point by which it succumbs to its own weight. As “Every Thing, Every Day” crumbles apart at the end, these 41 minutes have been an exhausting ride, no matter what better points poke through the tar.
On paper, Nomadic appears to be made from all (or at least, most) of the parts that make up Take As Needed For Pain, or Dopesick, or even 2014’s eponymous affair… but it’s not any of those, either. Maybe it’s the lack of founding drummer Joey LaCaze, who tragically passed away in 2013, or maybe it’s the lack of second guitarist Brian Patton, leaving Jimmy Bower to carry twice the load, or maybe it’s all of that and more. But the result is the same: While it isn’t a terrible excuse for an Eyehategod record, and I’m certainly not saying it’s a failure, it’s still a marked step backwards from their best work. Mostly, Nomadic Behavior is like hearing someone telling you about an Eyehategod record, instead of hearing an Eyehategod record itself.
More than anything else, it makes me miss the days of broken glass…