Before we dive into Hives in Decline, the debut LP from The Ditch and the Delta allow me a moment to lament the original introduction to this piece, which I thought was a fair and funny bit about how a successful sludge album is a lot like a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup™. I’m not saying it was comedy gold, but it was clever and fun and served to set the theme for the review. Alas, when doing digging into their previous EP I saw that another publication essentially used the same joke (and better, to be fair).
So farewell, original intro. I thought you were funny, but so did someone else, and almost two earlier to boot. At least you served as fodder for this new intro. Now let’s talk about massive riffs and grooves instead.
Formed in Salt Lake City in 2015, the trio that makes up The Ditch and the Delta encompass a pretty broad spectrum of influences and sounds. Although there’s a heavy debt to the Atlanta/Savannah sound of bands like Kylesa, Baroness, and early Mastodon, there are subtle nods to doom, noise, and progression in the complex arrangements in chord structure. The sound isn’t just big, it’s dense and complex, in part owing to guitarist/vocalist Eliot Secrist’s degree in Jazz Composition. Debut EP We Rust from 2015 emphasizes this in a raw, stripped production that serves tracks like the angular, chugging “Open Veins” and “Four Specters” well. There’s a great sense of anticipation in the rhythm section of Charles Bogus on drums and Kory Quist on bass, reading and feeding off of each other as each track moves in its own circle.
That sense of musical telepathy between the band is ramped up on Hives in Decline. The title track that opens the album shows how potent a trio can be when aligned, even when working in a melange of styles. Take “Fuck on Asphalt” (but please don’t actually fuck on asphalt, unless that’s like, your jam..in which case go for it but bring some Neosporin™ or something) – halfway through the driving riffs there’s a spaced out doom section that can easily drop a song’s direction into nowhere. Instead it feels like one long exhalation, solos twisting upon each other as the drums and bass wind down, then back up until we hit the big riff again. The drum breaks on “Sleeping Dogs” are massive, and drive the song forward like the best of early Kylesa before settling into the slow blues slide segue of “Dry Land.”
If the first half already has you on board, nothing on the second half changes that. From “Til Body Quits” to “Dry Spectacle” it’s slabs of heaviness interspersed with small moments that move the tunes beyond simple clones of other bands and provide a unique identity to The Ditch and the Delta. “Dry Spectacle” in particular with its clean passages and mood shifts evoke a dry, dessert feel that’s both oppressive and strangely open. It’s another highlight on an already assured record.
Taking a confident approach to an established formula, Hives in Decline makes for a solid debut from The Ditch and the Delta. It ups the ante on everything from the EP and marks a band just beginning to leave an imprint on the scene. If this is what’s brewing in Utah, we need more of it.