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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Slough Feg

Atavism

Review by Mike Korn

Right now, Slough Feg is the best pure heavy metal band in America. That's a mighty bold statement to make, but one listen to "Atavism" will back it up. This is as strong a record as will be released in 2005. The band is hardly new but has been lurking around the fringes of the American metal scene, never allying themselves with a big independent label or getting a video on MTV. They seem devoted strictly to making and releasing music on their own terms. Awesome word of mouth has made them a much revered band amongst those metalheads wise enough to know of them, but "Atavism" should see their profile raised sharply.

Formerly known as "the Lord Weird Slough Feg", the band has recently shortened their name and also trimmed some of the fat from their music. To describe the Slough Feg sound is rather difficult, as it hails back to the great, classic days of metal, yet it sounds forward-thinking and fresh as well. At certain points, you will be vaguely reminded of classic Iron Maiden with the melodic twin guitar attack, full-bodied vocals and galloping bass. But it's a superficial comparison. Slough Feg introduce a true "medieval" feeling into their music, with some tracks having an almost Celtic ambience and others sounding like metal that could have been composed in Renaissance days. The strong, distinct voice of Mike Scalzi helps the band maintain its own identity. Scalzi does not scream or growl, but rather croons his songs in the manner of a modern minstrel. By the way, Scalzi and guitarist John Cobbett are also members of the similar and equally excellent Hammers of Misfortune.

There's a delightful feeling of intelligence and eccentricity to Slough Feg's music, as they leap from thrashy instrumentals to classic rock sounding ditties to folk metal workouts. Their knack for injecting elements of past metal glory into a new framework is uncanny, and I cannot believe this band will be condemned to obscurity much longer. This is one of the most highly recommended releases of the year.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Robustus
"Robust" is a word that comes to mind listening to this bracing thrash metal instrumental, which builds brilliantly into the next piece.

You Will Die/I Will Kill You
This cut erupts right from "Robustus" and features a bouncy, cheerful feel to it that will catch the usual metal listener by surprise but which works brilliantly. Mike Scalzi's vocals immediately make their mark with their lower register, and the guitar solo is exquisite. Just listen to the complex procession of riffs in the second half of the track...equal to anything in the classic days of Iron Maiden.

Portcullis
This is another brief but potent instrumental that is so simple but catchy. It's driving, heavy and to the point.

Hiberno-Latin Invasion
This one comes out of the gate with some extremely cool dual guitar riffing where the band's Celtic flavor comes to the fore. The main theme is almost like an old Irish jig as if it were played by Thin Lizzy. The lyrics deal exactly with what the title says...an ancient conflict between Spaniards and Celts - an enchanting track.

Climax of a Generation
This fast and melodic speed metal track features more amazing twin guitar work and has a bit more of a modern power metal influence. The guitar arpeggios here are just awesome and some of the best ever in the genre and enhance a tough, spacey metal tune. Yet another instrumental, this is the most advanced of the bunch.

Atavism
The record cools down with this acoustic interlude. Even though it's not metal, it has a very moody feeling to it. Slough Feg's folk and medieval music influences are even more pronounced and Scalzi's vocals fit the track perfectly.
Eumaeus the Swineherd
This is a slower, more deliberate but very heavy cut that again has an aura of ancient days. The lyrics seem related to the Trojan War and Greek tragedy.

Curse of Athena
An ominous, bass-driven cut, this brings Slough Feg's doomier side to the fore. The band shows they are just as powerful in this slower mode as with the faster material.
Agnostic Grunt/High Season V
I'm treating these two as one song, since that's basically the way I heard it. The groan-inducing pun in "Agnostic Grunt" won't be lost on any fan of hardcore punk. This one-two punch features some very cool near-thrash riffing in the midst and again segues neatly into the next one.

Starport Blues
This track has a real 70's rock feel to it, kind of like something from the first few Sabbath albums or maybe Thin Lizzy again. It revolves around a bouncing, bluesy kind of riff that's different than anything else on the album, and the guitar solos have an uncanny likeness to old school Tony Iommi.

Man Out of Time
Alternating between acoustic, folky verses and heavy, baroque sounding guitar work, this is one of the better fusions of metal and folk that I have heard.

Agony Slalom
Majestic twin guitar work introduces this song, which again sports a kind of "happy" feel despite still being unabashed metal. The band's touch at coming up with intriguing melodies doesn't flag at any point during the album and is especially strong here. Just when the original theme starts to wear out its welcome, the song shifts gears to a faster, more vigorous section with plenty of lead guitar.

Atavism II
Power and majesty are the hallmarks of this ending tune, which picks up many of the threads on the earlier "Atavism", but substitutes metal for the acoustic feel. This cut has a little bit of everything but still sounds like a coherent whole. Few are the bands who could pull this off so convincingly.
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