Venomous High by TimewornRelease date: June 2, 2017
Label: Fysisk Format
The first time I saw the title for this album I automatically started constructing a narrative in my head about some kind of high school for snakes and frogs and such, with our hero Steve ‘Hissy’ Elapid, a plucky Coral Snake navigating life, love and high school challenges. In my head it was a bit of a dramedy; snappy one-liners but a serious message. I may have been bored at work when the promo came in; who can tell?
Anyway, back to the point for a while maybe? Venomous High is the new album from Norwegian sludge-y post-metal types Timeworn following their excellent 2015 effort Luminescent Wake. I picked up that album on release on a bit of a whim, partly because the artwork was excellent, and was greeted by an great full length set of sludge-y metal brimming with scale and scope, albeit a little too reliant on recycled Mastodon ideas; my biggest concern about reviewing this record was that I was worried that there may not have been much progression; I’m pleased to report that for the most part this isn’t the case and that new strings have been added to the bow that increase the intensity and scale of the songs on Venomous High above and beyond mere Remission rip-offs, and although there are a few areas where the Mastodon influence is still a little too clearly audible – such as the beginning of ‘Ur Syntax’, but these are far fewer in number than on their prior effort and as a result the album as a whole feels more like its own beast rather than an imitation.
The album opens with the chiming intro to ‘Measure of Gold’, topped with an almost chanting vocal, which is an effective motif, building as it does to a crescendo in a thundering blur of drums and riffage, before dropping into a meaty shouted vocal with some serious grit behind it. This is a pattern repeated a couple of times; it works really well and adds a noticeable dynamism to the song, making its 7 minute run time feel much shorter. The drop to almost nothing in the middle eight works well, increasing the dynamism, but more importantly allowing focus on the pretty guitar line that has been running throughout the track. ‘All Chiefs’ main riff initially reeks of Remission era Mastodon, before taking on influences from other bands – Kverlertak being one that came to my mind. It might be one of the less interesting songs on the record, displaying very little of the progression noted elsewhere, but it still races along at a fair old clip, the pacing driven by a bombastic delivery of the percussion, and the listener gets caught up in the sheer exhilaration and pace of a well-delivered, unreconstructed metal song.
A short interlude then drops us into ‘Black Peak Blues’, one of the highlights of the album. Feeling a lot more progressive in its delivery than some of the earlier songs and with guitar parts that actually push a little more towards the psychedelic, it weirdly reminds me of Crowbar jamming with Pink Floyd; despite sounding like neither band. There’s a touch of tech metal groove to some of the timings here and there, but overall it sounds like no one single influence, or more accurately, it sounds like Timeworn, which is very welcome. As mentioned above there are flip-sides to this position, for example, aside from the wonderful chorus which elevates the whole song, ‘Ur Syntax’ very much struggles to free itself from the shadow of Mastodon. It’s still an eminently listenable song, but after the joys of tunes such as ‘Black Peak Blues’ it feels a little one note. ‘Night of Owls’ falls into a similar trap, with a main riff that could have been taken from a Leviathan session – that’s kind of a compliment as it’s a cracking riff, but nonetheless it feels like a missed opportunity to develop this further.
‘The Infectious Gloom’ breaks out the tambourine (I think!) at the beginning – I think it’s a first for me to have to use the ‘T’ word in a review – before dropping into a groove oriented main riff that reminded me of early Clutch in its delivery and timing; this then progresses through the song wonderfully, with a subtle evolution of the riff structure as the song builds. ‘Traitors to the Crown’ builds a tension in its intense riffage and clever chorus, and the song calls the same big scope and scale that ‘Measure of Gold’ hinted at; again the percussion drives the song mercilessly and again the run time feels considerably shorter than it is. Closer ‘Venomous High’ takes all of the ingredients of the record and throws in some truly massive riffs to boot, along with some almost ambient guitar lines that give a texture and tone to the song that is really quite special.
The craft that has gone into this album is self-evident; musically there is no shortage of great ideas and the move away from their direct influences into far more progressive territories is very welcome. This record feels a little like a transition in that respect; Timeworn still have one foot in Mastodon’s back catalogue and although there has been significant movement away from that, the sooner they can fully find their own voice the better the overall package will be. As it is Venomous High is a very, very good example of progressive sludge-y post-metal. At its worst it sounds like a very good set of Mastodon B-sides, at its best it is elevated away from that admittedly pretty lofty position into something wholly more interesting, but throughout it remains a very engaging listen and is definitely recommended.