Sunday, March 2, 2014

Slough Feg - Digital Resistance

Rome wasn't felled in a day

I think I'm pretty much done getting hyped for Slough Feg.

I know, that's an extremely bizarre thing to hear coming from me, considering I've reviewed three of their albums to date and none of them have scored below 96%.  And hell, I've planned on hitting Hardworlder a few times and that would just keep the streak alive.  But no, today I find myself reluctantly bringing down the axe.  It's been something in the pipeline for a while, and I really shouldn't be too horribly surprised at this, but it's still very disappointing to say: Slough Feg's ninth album, Digital Resistance, is kinda shitty.

I can really sum up the album really well by paraphrasing something Scalzi has said in interviews recently.  Basically, he says that the early albums were the result of him trying really hard to prove himself as a musician and songwriter, so he put in a shitload of effort into going over the top and being as ambitious as possible to craft albums unlike any other.  He feels like he accomplished it on Traveller, so ever since then he hasn't been wracking his brain so much when it comes to their sound, and he's been much more content and laid back about his music, just writing what feels comfortable to him.  On one hand, that's very respectable for an artist to say "I don't want to compromise myself and will only write and release music I'm comfortable and happy with".  On the other hand, it just shows that he's much, much better when he's putting 1000% effort into writing things.  It's pretty clear to me that the ambition and urgency of their early work took a bit of a nosedive after Traveller eclipsed damn near everything else Scalzi had ever and will ever touch.  Atavism had much less epicism and more of a dirty rock n roll vibe, while Hardworlder managed to regress a bit by keeping a fairly laid back rock style with a slathering of an epic space opera.  Ape Uprising and Animal Spirits just felt... nondescript to me.  The Thin Lizzy vibe was more amped up than ever, and the albums seemed to dictate their own pace, lolling around wherever they felt like going, lazily drifting to whatever they felt like doing with no regards to pacing or themeing.

Digital Resistance continues this theme, and I just can't bring myself to give a shit anymore.  Mike Scalzi, for all that wild haired, foul smelling brilliance he emanated in the band's early days, simply doesn't try to write songs anymore.  No, he waits for songs to write themselves.  As a result, I just found myself waiting four years after two mediocre/forgettable albums for another collection of meandering half-songs.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm clearly not the target audience for this album, since the only song that sounds like it could have found itself on any previous records would be "Laser Enforcer", which is a great, upbeat rocker with tons of hooks.  It's exactly the kind of thing Slough Feg is good at.  The problem is that every other track on the album is just... bizarre.  I like the dark jubilance of "Habeas Corpsus", the eerie grooving of "Ghostly Appendage", and the sheer head bobbing funkiness of "The Price is Nice" but even though I like all of those songs, most of them feel unfinished.  Like they're missing layers or sections are repeated/put in as placeholders before the actual bridge is finished or something.  Most of the album happens of little consequence while at the same time being head scratchingly confusing. It's like every song is "Troll Pack" from Down Among the Deadmen, except that track was a neat diversion on that album since it was one song. Not eight.

I don't even know how to describe this, honestly.  There are a lot of soft parts that are cacophonous and hard to follow while simultaneously being groovy and bouncy without being energetic or interesting.  It's a big melting pot of everything and nothing all at once.  If you don't sit down at the table and write your music or set up in the practice space and jam, instead opting to sit around drinking Skol and watching Red Dwarf, patiently waiting for inspiration to strike you, you're going to end up with a bewildering mishmash of galloping percussion and clean, uninteresting guitar parts like this.  The band doesn't feel like they're trying at all, instead just half-heartedly recording every half baked idea that pops into their heads without refining them or making them coherent in any way.  There's no logical flow, neither between nor within tracks, and everything seems to go through these really bizarre, contorted motions without any hint of passion or emotion.  Digital Resistance is like a very perplexing interpretive dance routine where the performer twists himself like Voldo and pops water balloons filled with jelly with a tack taped onto his penis to a with a look of dead-eyed blankness on his face to a soundtrack of utter silence before bowing out to an empty auditorium.  It's strange and uncomfortable, but you can't help but feel like all the nonsense meant something to the performer.  I fully believe that this album is very important to Scalzi and his cronies, and means something profound to him.  But to me, as an outsider, it's a very deliberately meticulous maelstrom of bewildering nonsense that never goes anywhere worth going.

If you liked the more primitive Animal Spirits or the more daring Ape Uprising, I can see Digital Resistance working for you.  For some, this is a bold and experimental metal album that rests in that forever unclassifiable zone that Slough Feg perpetually exists within; an introspective delving into Scalzi's existence in seemingly wide-awake REM sleep.  For others (like me), this is just the fifth album in a row to find the youthful exuberance of the band sorely absent, instead replaced by a bunch of old men toying around with any idea that pops into their head without any sort of meaningful filtration.  Yes, I'm fully aware that Scalzi is indeed an old man now and will never recapture the lofty ambition of Traveller or the drunken vibrancy of Twilight of the Idols again.  But hell, Atavism was still urgent and Hardworlder was melodically sensible enough for the laid back style to work marvelously.  But Digital Resistance just sounds like the band isn't trying.  It's a series of things that happen with no consequence other than me scratching my head and saying "This is... uhh, cool I guess?"

Old fans should check out "Laser Enforcer" and I guess "Magic Hooligan", and maybe you'll like a handful of the weirder songs like I do as well, but for the most part, you can pretty much accurately deduce whether or not you'll like this album based entirely on your opinion of the post 2003 stuff.  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me three times, I've finally learned my lesson and won't be fooled a fourth.

RATING - 40%

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