Label: Suicide Records
Release date: 27-03-2020
I’m going to set some context before penning my thoughts down. I had a massive phase of listening to stoner/sludge/desert-rock many years ago. Whether it was the NOLA bands or legends like Sleep and Kyuss, this subgenre has always been right down my alley. I still quite enjoy it to be honest, but of late, black metal has ruled the roost. Most recently, the closest I’ve come to rekindling this old flame was my contemplation of paying Desert Fest (one of the better known festivals promoting this subgenre) a visit. But that said, on seeing the Demonic Death Judge promo up for review, I grabbed it for want of listening to something different.
Demonic Death Judge are a stoner/sludge band from Finland. They’ve been churning out tunes for over a decade now and I’ll be honest, they flew under my radar and this is my first taste of their music. The Trail is their fourth full-length album. My immediate reaction after completing my first listen was – Holy balls, this is good! Obligatory comparisons would be bands like Weedeater, Bongzilla and their Canadian contemporaries Dopethrone. I mention these bands in particular because Demonic Death Judge share a similar harsh/raspy vocal delivery style compared to the aforementioned bands.
But, to Demonic Death Judge’s credit, The Trail offers much more variety in terms of acoustic and the instrumental passages apart from tasty guitar riffs and thumping bass lines. The band takes their music seriously but probably also have oodles of fun coming up with tongue-in-cheek song titles – Cougar Charmer, Filthy as Charged? No? The band definitely has a sense of humor. The lyrics are short and hard-hitting in the sense that the choruses are easy to pick up and shout along. To add another layer, there are some mild country folky NOLA vibes. All this combined definitely makes the album more interesting and makes repeated listens a joy.
The album opener, Cougar Charmer, is an acoustic guitar instrumental which would not be out of place if played in a Western movie. The last note of the first track continues seamlessly into Filthy as Charged, a song laden with some infectiously catchy groovy hooks. The song also has a trippy (and dare I say weird) music video to complement it. After this slightly uptempo track, the band mellows it down with Hardship, a relatively doomy track. Hardship’s chorus will get you singing in no time – “Through hardship / We fight / Through suffering / We die”. Elevation and Shapeshifting Serpents start off similarly with instrumental spacey openings and then transition into heavy sludge goodness.
The band mixes it up in the final third of the album with two instrumentals Fountain of Acid and Cougar Charmer (Reprise). Fountain of Acid is a bit of a chaotic track which ends with sludgy dissonant sounds. Did I hear a saxophone there? I’m not sure because it did sound like one. Cougar Charmer (Reprise), as opposed to the album opener, doesn’t sound cheery at all. The band also introduces the harmonica in this track.
The penultimate and also album title track, the Trail, is the longest on the album clocking in at close to nine minutes. In a way, it exemplifies what the whole album is all about. During those nine minutes, the band meanders through their head-bobbing sludge and the lyrics of “This trail will take me / I’ll never come home / This trail will take me / I’ll never be found” will ring in your head. The song gradually spaces out into the wilderness with ambient post-rock-y sounds.
The album closer, We Have to Kill, has one of the catchiest yet simplest-sounding riffs. The NOLA vibes are strongest on this track, especially evidenced by a slower harmonica passage with clean vocals. Before you know it, the band returns to heaviness with that main riff and ends the album.
The Trail is surely a ride I’d love to continue getting on. My final impressions are that the band’s sound is quite refreshing wherein they take a repetitive riff-laden subgenre like stoner/sludge and add some variety with instrumental passages, while still making it sound quite seamless. This is clearly an album of two halves. If we lived in a predominantly cassette-tape era, one would see a marked difference between the two sides. The former being sludgy and in your face while the latter being more transient, spacey and experimental. I think it’s great to be honest that a stoner/sludge band can display such dynamism in their sound. I’m quite impressed with Demonic Death Judge’s album and it beckons me to check out their back catalogue. I reckon you should too, if this subgenre is your cup of tea!
- Lauri Pikka – Drums
- Jaakko Heinonen – Vocals
- Eetu Lehtinen – Bass
- Toni Raukola – Guitar
- Cougar Charmer
- Filthy as Charged
- Shapeshifting Serpents
- Fountain of Acid
- Cougar Charmer (Reprise)
- The Trail
- We Have to Kill