You know, I’m not really a big fan of sludge metal (basically a combination of punk and doom metal, if you’ve never heard of it) or noise rock. It’s not that I hate them, it’s just that I don’t normally listen to them, so sludge metal and noise rock both tend to stay on my list of things to check out whenever I get the free time, yet always get pushed down the list whenever I do actually have the free time (most recently, I pushed it down to listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints…I’d say those were good things to prioritise, but I suspect noise rock and sludge metal fans wouldn’t agree with me on that!).
So this review is as much an opportunity for me to dip into the genre as it is a chance to talk about two bands which aren’t going to be on most people’s radars: Canada’s The Great Sabatini and Godstopper (nice play on words, guys, I approve!).
So, for the benefit of getting everyone up to speed, The Great Sabatini are a progressive sludge metal band from Montreal, Quebec and Godstopper are a sludge metal/noise rock band from Toranto, Ontario. The Great Sabatini have been around since 2007 and have thus far released three studio albums (2009’s Sad Paradise of Yesterdays, 2012’s Matterhorn and 2015’s Dog Years) and five EPs (which I’ll let you look up in your own time if you’re curious about them) while Godstopper have been around since 2010 (originally as a one man band for vocalist Mike Simpson, but they became a full touring band in 2011) released two albums (2012’s What Matters and 2015’s Lie Down) and two EPs (which, again, I’ll let you look up in your own time if you’re interested in them). The Great Sabatini’s line up has been pretty consistent over their history, with the only change in members being when Will Sabatini (better known as Will Bustin) was replaced by Steve Sabatini (yeah, all of the guys use the last name Sabatini when in the band: think what The Ramones did and you’ve got the right idea) while Godstopper has had a bit of shifting around of members since their first group recording (Tobin Simpson and Phil Miles played on their debut album, but are no longer part of the ban: one of them had been replaced by Mike Simpson, who had played drums on their debut album and got current drummer Adam McGillivray to fill the drum set to allow this change, and the other was replaced by Derek Del Vecchio), but have had a consistent line up since their second EP was released.
This release is a split EP between both bands (since split records aren’t all that common in most popular styles of music, I’ll quickly explain what they are for the benefit of anyone unfamiliar with them: a split in record terms is basically a recording which have more than one artist on them, often with several songs by each artist on them and the artists having similar sounds to each other) and, being honest, I’m not sure I’m impressed with either artist. Now, to be fair, I’m approach this as someone who isn’t a fan of what either band are doing and I don’t think either artist is necessarily bad (certainly, some of the material on here is actually not too bad), but I just wasn’t particularly grabbed by this as a personal listener enough to really enjoy this as much as I probably should have done.
Let me start by discussing The Great Sabatini’s contributions to the split, which are the first four tracks. Honestly, I think the band makes a mistake by having the vast majority of the material they offer not have any of the members actually contributing vocalist, as the only vocals which are clearly sung by the band members (and aren’t just spoken word stuff or vocals which I am pretty sure aren’t by any of the members of the band) are actually on track 3, “The Ear Collect”. I appreciate the band are a progressive sludge metal band, but I can’t help feeling a little bit cheated that the only side of the band that I get a proper chance to judge is the instrumental side. I will give the band credit in that the instrumental side is actually pretty interesting, as it showcases a surprisingly diverse range of emotions and ideas across it (even if some of it doesn’t really make much sense: I’m not entirely sure what the band were trying to do on “Shortwave Radio” in terms of the flow of the entire song) and the whole thing flows well as a decent mini epic that lasts for a reasonable eight and a half minutes, but I still feel that the band probably should have gone for two songs rather than a epic track broken down into four parts, as it would have given a better idea of them to newcomers like myself.
Being honest, the band performances by The Great Sabatini are actually fairly good, though they’re not the best performances I’ve heard by any measure. Drummer Steve Sabatini gives a pretty varied performance across the whole of the band’s side of the split, with some fast drumming in “I’m Not the Man” contrasting nicely with his mainly cymbal playing on closer “Dog Years (Quiet)”. This is a guy who definitely knows how to play his kit to the advantage of the song and I can’t fault him for that! Bassist Joey Sabatini has some interesting moments, but he has a huge amount of distortion on his bass that results in a lot of what he does getting lost in a loud fuzz. I honestly would have liked a clearer bass tone for him, but I will admit that I can see why it was done on this recording (it DOES help with the ominous vibe that one expects from a doom-influenced subgenre of metal), so I’m not too hung up over it. Sean Sabatani and Rob Sabatini both provide guitar playing that fits in with what you would expect from doom metal (slow, loud and heavy), but it’s only in the final track that they do anything that I find really interesting, as they use a more acoustic sound which is surprisingly creepy and, thanks to a surprisingly creepy choir, helps to end the split off on a surprisingly unsettling note: by contrast, their performance on “The Ear Collect” just feels like a fairly typical performance for what I’d expect to hear in this style of music, right down to the vocals being a higher ranged, almost incomprehensible punk yell. It’s a shame, because, as much as I wasn’t particularly grabbed by their material, I do appreciate that it attempts to offer something which isn’t entirely what you’d expect from this sort of music for the most part. Sadly, it is the return to conventionality that shows that the band don’t really stand out from the crowd when they try to do what is typical of the genre.
Godstopper’s side of the split is two songs and I honestly think the first song, “It’s Alright”, is my favourite song on this split, as, while it doesn’t offer anything new to the musical spectrum, the final result is pretty heavy, ominous and flows in a way that works pretty well. Sadly, the same can’t really be said for “A Prayer”, which isn’t BAD, but it feels like it drags more than it should and Mike Simpson’s vocals don’t really enhance it as much as they should do, especially when the song goes for a much louder approach and his vocals don’t adjust to suit that. Both songs are slow and ominous, but I think “A Prayer” is a bit of a misfire that just doesn’t grab me because it doesn’t work well enough in its own right to really interest me.
The performances on this front, aside from Simpson’s vocals (which I’ll talk about later), are pretty typical of what you’d expect to hear on “It’s Alright”, but the more alternative sound on “A Prayer” trades out instrumental complexity for a great emphasis on creating a sonic landscape in an alternative kind of way, which is succeeds at, but the final result just ends up boring me (although I’m flat out not a fan of alternative music because I find the whole thing boring as all hell even in the best of cases, so this might be my own personal biases showing), so I’m not sure it was really worth it in the long run. Bassist Miranda Armstrong has some interesting moments in her performances, McGillivray has some reasonable performances and the guitars are reasonable, but they don’t really break from established conventions of the doom spectrum, so it’s not all that noteworthy. The only real highlight is Simpson’s vocals, which he is able to use to perform in both a clean, slightly alternative influenced vocal style (which he surprisingly makes work in this style of music) and a more punk influenced yell (which is reasonably well done, but nothing all that special).
The production on The Great Sabatini’s side of the split is…well, pretty unremarkable, if I’m honest. It’s not BAD at all, but there’s not really a lot to say about it because it fits in with what the band are going for and doesn’t really do much which needs to be commented upon, although I will say that, vocals aside, everything is mixed well, so credit to the band there. Nothing really to say here: it gets the job done and it does it well. Godstopper’s side of things is a bit more problematic, as I think it is lacking in the bass presence side of thing (which is a bit of a problem when you consider that the bass is highly important for creating atmosphere in doom in general), but the same basic comments apply: it gets the job done and does it well.
So, ultimately, I think The Great Sabatini have the most interesting material on here, but Godstopper have the song I like the most. While I will be honest and admit that this didn’t win me over enough to particularly want to dig further into sludge metal at the minute, I can’t deny that there is enough on here to make it worth checking out if you are a fan of sludge metal and there is certainly enough here to make it worthy of some replays. So, sludge metal fans, consider this worth a look into! Everyone else, though…probably best to give this a miss, as it’s not likely to win you over and approaching it without some prior knowledge of the genre will just leave you hopelessly lost.
The Great Sabatini / Godstopper will be released on the 19th of August by No List Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.