Heavy Side of the River by Green AltarRelease date: May 4, 2018
Hailing from the hinterlands of South Dakota, Green Altar deliver up an excellent slab of sludge with their second album Heavy Side of the River, which is odd because the Dakotas never struck me as a place abundant in bogs, humidity, or rivers. Of course, none of that matters, and the harshness of nature can be found everywhere, which is probably one of the reasons that heavy music is a global phenomenon. And, my, is this offering heavy.
The opening of the album lays the groundwork for what you are about to hear: a completely massive low end rattling along a wooden rollercoaster clatter of drums. This is stripped down, straightforward sludge, which seems like just the sort of aural violence we need in these increasingly confusing times. As the modern world’s veil of Maya is being pierced by ecological disaster and the redrawing of pointless factionalism, the face beneath is revealed as contorted and monstrous. How do we respond to this sort of confrontation with what would historically be called ugliness? Sludge is certainly one answer.
Green Altar can be easily identified as cleaving to the lineage bestowed upon them by Weedeater and Eyehategod. One of the frequently glossed over reference points for these two bands is the American blues tradition. By playing simple music that encapsulates a bluesy attitude towards the world, there’s a certain nod to both history and to rock music’s democratic potential. (It’s hard to imagine a more potent encapsulation of this than Weedeater’s flagburning cover of …and Justice for Y’all). And that’s what Green Altar delivers: a very visceral anger, which can be felt by all, regardless of whether or not they find the sludge beautiful or not. This is fundamentally a music about feelings, and Green Altar seemingly know this.
This album is certainly not as musically radical as some of the other albums I’ve reviewed this far (which, to be fair, have be among the weirdest of the weird), but it’s perfectly serviceable and full of righteous anger. It’s the sound not only of a band responding to the world, but also trying to find its own voice. At points, the influences threaten to overshadow the songs themselves. But it’s a rollicking album, and I can’t wait to see where Green Altar goes on their next release.