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Album Review: BLACK SHEEP WALL Songs for the Enamel Queen

9/10 Reviewer
Score

Springing from the the American sludgecore camp alongside Admiral Angry and The Abominable Iron Sloth, Black Sheep Wall set a standard of punishing heaviness that few could hope to approach. 2008’s I Am God Songs is essentially Primitive Man for hardcore kids… that should get the point across. The stoner element of No Matter Where It Ends and the nihilistic post-metal of 2015’s I’m Going to Kill Myself showed different facets of Black Sheep Wall’s sound, but the band’s violent, primitive dirges have remained a constant. If the first and second albums took steps to elaborate on the debut’s template, then Songs for the Enamel Queen represents a quantum leap.

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While it contains the crushing hatred of I Am God Songs and the emotive exploration within I’m Going to Kill Myself,  “Human Shaped Hole” brings a technical flair yet unheard from Black Sheep Wall. Guitarists Andrew Hulle and Scott Turner contrast lumbering monochromatic beatdowns with spiralling arpeggios, as Jackson Thompson comes through with some dexterous drum fills in addition to Black Sheep Wall’s well-known caveman grooves. Songs for the Enamel Queen maintains sludgecore heft as the quintet push themselves as songwriters.

Themes of self-loathing, guilt and internal anguish permeate this album, apparently reflecting vocalist Brandon Gillichbauer’s arduous journey during the band's silence. His words give longer cuts like “New Measures of Failure” a gripping emotional through line, as Black Sheep Wall progresses from scronkey mathcore and bludgeoning one-note riffage to discordant ambiance. The song’s eight-minute mark gets particularly harrowing as Gillichbauer’s anguished screams cut through dreary chords and ethereal percussion “I hope you keep me a secret/ I hope you’re ashamed… I hope you’ll always hate me.”

This album’s palpable, haunting sense of suffering informs vulnerable meditations as effectively as it does chest-caving brutality. This keeps the odd time signatures and complex chord progressions of “Concrete God” rooted in visceral hate, and gives the gargantuan breakdowns an extra dose of menace. Black Sheep Wall knows when to descend into claustrophobic cacophony, and when to gun the prog-sludge throttle—like a sludgecore take on Mastodon. The former aspect finds the spotlight in “Ballad of a Flawed Animal,” where psychotic wailing and battering noisecore send the song’s abject heaviness into the bowels of a mental hell.

Those two cuts allow Black Sheep Wall to flex more musicality without forsaking blunt impact. While longer cuts utilize their runtime to embellish their soundscapes and ruminate on dark head spaces. “Ren” tastefully implement trumpet melodies and tricky hi-hat rhythms, as Gillichbauer spits out jealous ire like acidic bile: “I know you’re out there fucking/ I know you’re not alone… Knowing I’m alone.” His lyrics pierce through the song’s crescendo like a javelin, and get downright terrifying on “Mr. Gone.”

Steadily building from a downtempo, quiet direge, “Mr. Gone” becomes apocalyptic as Gillichbauer’s screamed spoken-word reaches a fever pitch. The song dispenses with the rulebook for breakdowns. Downbeats and backbeats go out the window as Black Sheep Wall focuses on chilling dissonance and lopsided chugs. The riffs just keep getting heavier, and the growls keep getting angrier. While up there with the doom and sludge elite, Black Sheep Wall drives its sound with the tortured passion and controlled chaos of post-hardcore. It’s this balance that allows “Prayer Sheet for Wound and Nail” to close things out with an overwhelming sonic spectrum.

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Jason Grissinger’s grimy bass tone fleshes out the song’s hypnotic, mournful intro, before the band boils over into a shoegazey wall of sound and some syncopated post-hardcore rhythm breaks. It’s certainly a branch out from I Am God Songs, but the band's ultra-heavy signature always finds a way to come full circle and pile drive the listener into the center of the earth. “I honestly thought things would be better/ I don’t like who I am,” Gillichbauer screams during the song’s soaring climax—epitomizing Black Sheep Wall’s despondent narrative amid brain-melting sonics.

While Songs for the Enamel Queen takes bold strides beyond Black Sheep Wall per usual, those explorations end up servicing the band’s earth-shattering brown noise all the more. These guys have evolved into something not only different, than better. This thing is not only the best Black Sheep Wall album, but an early contender for the best sludge/post-metal album of 2021.

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