Hard to believe it’s been fourteen years since Eyehategod’s last full length, Confederacy of Ruined Lives. That album was my first Eyehategod experience; I admittedly came late to the band (keep in mind I was twelve when In the Name of Suffering came out), but it was a true case of love at first listen. Sure, I was well-versed in metal by the time I picked up the album at my local Best Buy, but I had never heard anything quite like their ultra-corrosive Black Flag meets Black Sabbath in a dark alley blues, and I couldn’t wait for my next fix.
I worked my way through their back catalog over the next few years, becoming more and more obsessed; there was just something perfect about Eyehategod’s sound. It was nasty and abrasive, but it was also catchy and groovy and the way the band piled on riff after awesome riff was glorious; to this day I recognize their songs more by their riffs than by the titles or lyrics. Their name alone had the power to provoke a reaction; a very drunk, very stupid and apparently very religious redneck once threatened to kick my ass on grounds of blasphemy at a party for wearing my Eyehategod hoodie, which I pretty much wore everywhere.
As the years went on, I kept expecting the band to resurface with another full length, but instead we got two compilations and scattered splits and singles, plus a live DVD that I was quite grateful for, having still to this day never had the chance to see Eyehategod live. With all the members involved in various other projects such as Down, Outlaw Order and Arson Anthem, it seemed unlikely that they would ever reconvene for anything more than to tour or for another one-off release. Eventually, I reserved myself to the fact that Eyehategod would never release another album, and was always waiting to hear news of the band’s demise.
But rather than go gently into that not-so-good night, Eyehategod have come roaring back with their self-titled fifth album and it’s every bit as good as the legendary releases that preceded it. The album bludgeons you from the get-go with the caustic hardcore of “Agitation! Propaganda!” quite possibly the most ferocious opening track in the band’s entire canon; around the one-minute-and-thirty-second mark the song lurches into one of Eyehategod’s trademark feedback-laden, greasy grooves, setting the tone for the next forty minutes of music. Indeed, tracks such as “Trying to Crack the Hard Dollar” and “Worthless Rescue” are pure sludge perfection, and if it weren’t for Mike IX Williams’ venomous vocal vomit could almost be considered accessible. The band ratchets up the tempo again at the album’s halfway point for “Framed to the Wall,” but even that song’s speedy brutality eventually gives way to syrupy Sabbath-action. It’s front-to-back classic Eyehategod, plain and simple.
The quintet are as filthy and fucked up as ever here, but what makes them so great, and what all the bands that have attempted to copy them over the years fail miserably at, is swagger. You see, Eyehategod takes Black Sabbath’s swing and adds the Southern swagger of the likes of Skynyrd and ZZ Top, then filters it through the lens of punk at it’s most nihilistic and drug-addled, along with a heaping helping of the blues at their darkest and most depressive. It’s a formula that sounds relatively simple in theory, but younger bands without the frame of reference see only the noisy, brutal aspects of the band and for whatever reason can’t grasp the subtleties and nuances of that make a song like “Parish Motel Sickness” or “The Age of Bootcamp” so fucking brilliant. It goes back to the whole metal bands with outside influences vs. metal bands that are only influenced by other metal bands thing I’ve been yapping about for years now and it makes all the difference.
From both a production and performance perspective, this might be Eyehategod’s best album. It doesn’t sound all that different from previous albums, but everything is bigger and bolder while still retaining the ragged, rubbed-raw edges that have become the band’s signature over the years. Williams’ vocals are as diseased-sounding as ever, but there is a clarity to his vocals that wasn’t always present on previous albums. Being that he’s one of the few singers left in metal who’s lyrics are actually worth a damn, it’s great to be able to understand every syllable without a printed lyric sheet. Guitarists Brian Patton and Jimmy Bower have long been one of my favorite six-string tandems, and they more than earn that status here, cranking out the slow-burning, lugubrious riffage like they never went away. Sadly, this album marks the final performance of drummer Joey LaCaze, who passed away in August of last year, made all the more tragic when one considers he and bassist Gary Mader put in a career-defining performance, displaying a swinging, almost jazzy synergy that at times rivals classic Butler and Ward.
At this point, Eyehategod are an institution; even after having not released an album for a decade-and-a-half they really didn’t have anything left to prove. They probably could’ve just gone through the motions, tossed off a record and still had fans and critics drooling all over it. Instead, they’ve released something that finds them sounding as vital, vicious and hungry as ever, putting copycats on notice and re-establishing themselves as the goddamn mighty lords of all things slow ‘n’ low. Hopefully it won’t be another fourteen years until the next one.