It’s been over a year, but welcome to the second edition of Unholy Divers, a sort-of new series where we immerse ourselves in the discographies of bands we should be more familiar with, but for whatever reasons, just aren’t.
To quickly re-state the purpose here: there’s only a finite amount of time we have for our existence, but a quick glance at Metal Archives shows the number of bands to nigh infinite. Hell, it seems the amount of genres they don’t cover is just as large (sorry, all things that end in –core).
We all have our blind spots, it’s just some are more glaring than others.
Unholy Divers is our attempt to close the gaps. Each column will take a deep dive (*rimshot*) into a different band’s catalogue with the aim of giving ourselves a better sense of what the cool kids have been talking about all this time.
So without further ado, let’s go down South and wade into the sludge of…
Philip Anselmo may have co-opted “NOLA” for Down’s debut album, but the term, the scene, and sludge metal as we’ve come to know it today isn’t possible without Eyehategod. The components of the genre may have had its beginnings in more far-flung bands like the Melvins, Flipper, and Black Flag’s My War, but the unique mix of doom, hardcore punk and southern drawl rock that emerged from the New Orleans scene owe a hefty debt to the mesmerizing sound put together by the core team of Jimmy Bower, Mike IX Williams, Joey LaCaze and Brian Patton.
Despite large periods of inactivity due to internal struggles and a largely uncaring music industry, the band has maintained an almost mythic stature in terms of their influence. Eyehategod are a band that could have only gestated in the time and place they did, and despite having the core dismantled (LaCaze died in 2013, and Patton parted amicably in 2018 to spend more time with family) Eyehategod are still moving forward, prepping an album for release next year. Good time to catch up, then…
- Vocals – Mike IX Williams
- Guitar – Jimmy Bower
- Bass – Gary Mader
- Drums – Aaron Hill
Five full lengths, a number of demos, splits, and EPs. Pieces covered in this post include…
- Garden Dwarf Woman Driver, 1989
- Lack of Almost Anything / In the Name of Suffering, 1990
- Take As Needed for Pain, 1993
- Ruptured Heart Theory, 1994
- Dopesick, 1996
- Southern Discomfort, 2000
- Confederacy of Ruined Lives, 2000
- 10 Years of Abuse (and Still Broke), 2001
- Preaching the End-Time Message, 2005
- Eyehategod, 2014
Author’s Exposure Prior to Unholy Divers:
I’ve probably heard Take As Needed for Pain once or twice, but couldn’t tell you a thing about it. I own the 2014 self titled on CD, but don’t think I ever got past the first song. Make of that what you will the next time I write anything.
Garden Dwarf Woman Driver (demo), 1989
The fact that Eyehategod’s first demo starts with a brief intro (“Smoking Weed”) that is just them listening to Kiss’s “Deuce” while blazed should provide you a firm foundation as to where the band is coming from. Garden Dwarf Woman Driver has that signature lo-fi feel of what sounds like a young band playing live while a boom box records the results. “My Name is God (I Hate You)” moves from sprawling doom riffs to furious hardcore punk and back again in the space of five minutes. “Pigs” has a lurching dirge as Williams hits some high squeals that rival the guitar feedback. “Man is Too Ignorant to Exist” runs on a little too long for my taste but you can already hear the band working through song structures and ideas that would coalesce on later albums.
The last two tracks are just nonsense jokes and guitar fiddling that sounds like the band having a goof while the record button was still pressed. It doesn’t do much to harm Garden Dwarf Woman Driver, instead it drives home the point that this is a down and dirty demo that signals a band finding its footing. I’d never go back to it, but I don’t think anyone else is looking to, either.
Lack of Almost Anything (demo) / In the Name of Suffering, 1990
Okay, just to get this out of the way, Lack of Almost Anything is another demo of songs that would appear on their debut full length. It’s okay, the tracks have a little more production value with some audio snippets tacked in front of the songs. I think the demo for “Children of God” fares best, but for me this was more of a curiosity than anything else. Since it appears as bonus tracks for Century Media’s re-isuue of In the Name of Suffering it’s nice to have but again – nothing I’ll ever listen to again.
In the Name of Suffering, on the other hand? Originally via independent label Intellectual Convulsion there’s a definite sharpening of the tunes here that overcomes the rough, cavernous production. Opener “Depress” has a monstrous bass sound that grounds the song in the mud, and when the tune picks up to d-beat fast mode it throttles. The cleaned up versions of songs from Garden Dwarf Woman Driver might have lost a little of the terror that came from the demo, but have a depth and pace that imbue the songs with a menacing groove that’s more up front. “Man is Too Ignorant to Exist” really benefits from the sonic upgrade, being cut up with piercing feedback, as does “Shinobi” which also boats a larger than life drum sound missing from the other songs on the album.
I’m not sure if every song starts with that feedback, but it sure feels like it. There’s a nauseating slowdown of the tempo that kicks off “Run It Into the Ground” that’s fairly impressive even if it doesn’t really hit a chord with me. When it ramps up to punk level I’m much more engaged. And I think that’s a common thing for me so far with Eyehategod: the slower, sludge doom works well enough, but when they use that grime and muck to coat the faster, punk elements of their songs it strikes an immediate nerve with me. “Godsong” has a vicious groove that benefits from how loose it snakes around the drums. Bower and LaCaze are the heroes of the album, more when I hear the…well, let’s call it less than stellar soloing going on, which takes me out of the song every time it happens. The 1-2 punch of the last two songs (yes, both starting with a squeal of feedback) solidify for me that yeah: Eyehategod are consistently nailing the sound they want to create in the world, but at this stage I’m not 100% it’s something I’m totally into.
Take As Needed for Pain, 1993
Oh…this is why everyone loves Eyehategod! It took three years, but the band came back strong with Take As Needed for Pain and it is a completely different animal from what came before. Self-recorded and self-produced by the band after signing to Century Media, the album is an expansive, vitriol spewing middle finger at the pain of life and feels like the realization of everything the band was attempting the previous four years.
It takes balls to throw your longest song up as the opening track, but when it’s as strong as “Blank” it’s not only a great move; it’s the only move. There is anger and anguish in equal parts, and you’re able to feel every ounce of it, the band’s life experience pouring through the speakers into your gut. This feeling is perfectly encapsulated in the cover art, which manages to be disquieting and metal as fuck in the way Carcass managed with their early covers.
Moving forward it’s incredible how much better everything sounds. A lot of this is just due to the better recording and production, but in the three years between this and In the Name of Suffering the band’s songwriting chops improved exponentially. Sure, there’s still an over-reliance on starting songs off with feedback, but listen to something like “30$ Bag” and it’s so much better incorporated into the riffs that starts things off. This song in particular has a great way of seamlessly moving between tempos. One more reason why LaCaze was such a beast on the drums.
The droning noise of “Disturbance” divides the album. It feels like an indulgence, but I’m willing to let it slide because the title track brings out a mean and nasty barrage of riffs that further expands what the band was capable of. When things get a bit more slinky, as they do on “Crimes Against Skin” and “Who Gave Her the Roses” it’s a wonder why I let this album go as long as I did. Take As Needed for Pain more than lives up to the legacy it imparts on the scene; it’s a devastating filth-ridden groove machine that wallows in the darkest parts of your soul. So yeah…I definitely missed the boat on it.
Ruptured Heart Theory EP, 1994
A short, three song EP that slightly streamlines the work from Take As Needed for Pain. The opening title track is another notch on the slow, doom nightmare the band continued to perfect, while the way the riff moves on “Story of the Eye” shows a keener sense of speed and pacing. The final track is a wicked live cut blending “Blank” and “Shoplift” off of Take As Needed for Pain. It’s short but brutal, and I dig it.
Relinquishing the production reins to Billy Anderson, Dopesick immediately strikes as darker and angrier than Take As Needed for Pain, as if afraid of selling their souls after the success of the previous record. Which isn’t to say Dopesick is any less accomplished at all: the opening track is a massive re-recording of “My Name is God (I Hate You)” and it slays even more than it did on the demo. “Dogs Holy Life” digs into the aggression and speed the band executes so well on before immediately diving into the bogs of “Masters of Legalized Confusion.” There’s a Sabbath stomp to the song, one of the best the band’s put out so far, and a swaggering riff at the halfway point had me up and reaching for my guitar it was so good.
When regarded as kin to Take As Needed For Pain there’s a scuzzy underside to Dopesick that’s just as powerful in its ability to suck you into its clutches. “Ruptured Heart Theory” is dug up from the previous EP and gets a massive Anderson treatment, digging into the pain and madness with squelching feedback and a low end that bottoms out your soul. The second half of the record really empathizes the melodic stomp of Sabbath, giving some more space to the overall tone of the record: it’s sludge, but it’s sludge with a noticeable groove that even in the sped up hardcore moments like “Peace Thru War (Thru Peace and War)” is never lost. Going through the record now, it’s hard to see this as anything less than a dark reflection of the previous classic, equal in masterful disgust.
Southern Discomfort, 2000
Demos, splits and singles from the Take As Needed for Pain and Dopesick sessions, this compilation as it stands has a surprising consistency in the sequencing. Although all the tracks can now, for the most part, be found on the reissues of the regular albums, there’s a nice balance to how things sit on Southern Discomfort, showing how cohesive this period was for the band in terms of songwriting, if not actual sanity.
Confederacy of Ruined Lives, 2000
With Billy Anderson out and Dave Foreman handling co-production duties with the band Confederacy of Ruined Lives is a much harsher, uglier record. Williams sounds like every rasp is going to tear his throat out, and the bass from Danny Nick (replacing Vince LeBlanc from Dopesick) doesn’t have the same heft and weight in the mix, giving the overall sound a thinner feel. Groove and feel is replaced with spiraling mechanical riffing on “Blood Money” giving a halting cadence to the song. “Jack Ass in the Will of God” takes the “Southern Discomfort” demo and works it into a full blown Eyehategod anger machine, and the fury the band brings to the song is a big highlight.
The bass finally makes its presence known on “Self Medicated Blues” and the album starts to settle in. Lyrically the dark corners of addiction, religion, and humanity’s base and craven desires continue to plague Williams, the anguish in his vocals are painful. Musically the band echoes that anguish most strongly in “0.001%” which begins with about three minutes of hair raising feedback before LaCaze’s drums count off a mammoth sized sludge riff that carries the song home. “99 Miles of Bad Road” goes right back to classic Eyehategod, another powerful stoner Sabbath slice that feels like an evil archaeological find, dug up from under the swamp. As the last official full length before the 2014 self titled album, it may not stand neck and neck with the previous releases, but its venom and bile are no less affecting, and when the songs hit, they hit with the force of a mallet to the skull.
10 Years of Abuse (and Still Broke), 2001
A “live” compilation, although by live we’re talking about rough demos and radio spots that feels like if nothing else an attempt to satisfy an album requirement for Century Media. From a sonic perspective the radio spots are nice and brutal, with “Take As Needed for Pain” and “My Name is God” having the presence of towering swamp gods. The rest doesn’t fare nearly as well.
Preaching the “End-Time” Message, 2005
Another rarities comp, this time covering most of the band’s existence to this point, with soundtrack cuts like “Serving Time in the Middle of Nowhere” from the film Gummo in 1997 and the homage medley “Sabbath Jam” recalling the classic vibe the band could pull off. There’s a live cut of “Jack Ass in the Will of God” that truly rips along with three original studio cuts, the last of which “Turn Troubled Tables” feels like an unearthed gem from the first album, polished to a gleaming jewel of hate.
Having gone through the majority of the band’s discography at this point, it was time to revisit the album I owned but could never get past. Hearing the hardcore aggression of “Agitation! Propaganda!” now makes so much more sense: the squeal of feedback kicking into a battery of riffs and drums, moving perhaps the fastest the band ever did before devolving into a by-now patented Sabbath groove. “Trying to Crack the Hard Dollar” is vintage Eyehategod circa Take As Needed For Pain and despite still lacking a little of that bottom end feels right at home with anything else from their catalog.
Serving as a farewell to Joe LaCaze, who passed away before the album could be released, there’s a focus on the album that reveals just how essential he was to the overall sound. The drums are simply gigantic on every track. Accenting the opening riff on “Parish Motel Sickness” before moving in and out of the guitars for the riff, he’s a ridiculous machine of fills and chooses outside the box patterns. That good old Southern Rock vibe comes back in spades on “Worthless Rescue” which is a centerpiece of not only the album, but Eyehategod as a musical entity.
Though it might be easy to pigeon-hole Eyehategod as a bit of a one trick pony, that one trick of sludge, hardcore, and southern rock mercilessly mixed into a molotov cocktail of anger and sweat is a potent one, and taking in all these albums together reveals small intricacies and variations that show that as much as the band stayed the same, the more they injected minute details that showed an attention to craft and growth outside of whatever demons they were all battling. There’s really no contesting the 1-2 punch of Take As Needed for Pain and Dopesick as the “essential” releases for Eyehategod, but I was surprised at how much of that primal energy was already there on In the Name of Suffering, and how much better the self-titled was upon revisiting it in the context of everything that came before it.
Regardless of what happens next for the band, their body of work already establishes them as a cornerstone to a movement, and the albums are as vital now as when they came out over 20 years ago.
Full-Length Album Rankings:
- Take As Needed for Pain
- In the Name of Suffering
- Confederacy of Ruined Lives
That’ll do it for this edition of Unholy Divers. We’ll hopefully be back with more of these soon — assuming future editions don’t take two months to put together, like this one did. (Even if they do, there’ll probably be more, so hooray!) Stay tuned!
Keep it heavy,