So many people taking the sludge route forget the immense amount of swagger that separates the truly great from the rest of the imitators out there. The pocket may be damp and muddy, but it is first and foremost deep, and if anyone is doing it better than -(16)- at this point, I don’t know them. I also don’t know a more aptly named album than Dream Squasher, which ably demonstrates that four years gone only made the riffs more gnarly, the groove baked deeper into the foundation, and the content as harrowing as the times it finds itself in.
My first walk with the band was 2012’s Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds, though they’ve been churning out massive chunks of metal since the early 90s. But the way the thunderous pummeling of Deep Cuts From Dark Clouds gave way to the hit-with-a-hammer assault of 2016’s Lifespan of a Moth to what Dream Squasher does to every nerve in your body feels like an escalation in terms of what they want to put across sonically, and how they want to move forward. In other words, even as heavy and within the mold of earlier albums Dream Squasher is, there are significant tweaks to the attack that make for the most propulsive and expansive album in their career.
Yeah…this feels like an all-timer.
After a squall of feedback those tweaks rise up on opening killer track “Candy in Spanish.” Guitarist Bobby Ferry has taken up lead vocals, and the wicked snarl brings a new level of attack to the songs, adding to the already monstrous roar Chris Jerue continues to bring. That the songs themselves are wider and more spacious from a soundstage perspective is welcome, serving to really isolate the band’s attack, whether it’s the rushing charge of “Me and the Dog Die Together” or the 70s analog doom of “Sadlands.” In a rush of a great beginning, it’s “Sadlands” that really opened my eyes to Dream Squasher. That opening of slick production brings to fore the great use of keyboards on the track, and the pained singing that’s a striking new tool in the band’s arsenal. -(16)- had me at the keyboards, but add the soaring solo halfway through courtesy of lead guitarist Alex Shuster and I was ready for anything.
From there things continue to leave nothing but desolation in Dream Squasher‘s wake. “Harvester of Fabrication” indulges in some nasty Pantera syncopated rhythms; “Ride the Waves” alternates between vicious d-beat beatdowns and some glorious hard rock riffing that injects a measure of positivity into the music, even as the lyrical content treads deep and dark. Late track “Screw Unto Others” sees Barney Firks’s bass reign overall, whether its laying the tick bottom end to the riff or out exploring on its own before returning to the pocket with Dion Thurman’s drums.
If there’s a common thread that ties all of Dream Squasher together, it’s how the whole album (sitting at a near perfect run time of 43 minutes) works together to show the best set of songs -(16)- have released to date. When the moments of exploration break out it’s transportive; when the foundation of crushing slabs of metal come in I’m content to sink in the deep.