III: The Forest Within The Tree by DeadbirdRelease date: October 12, 2018
Label: 20 Buck Spin
Arkansas-based sludgers Deadbird were formed in 2002 by brothers Chuck (ex-Pallbearer, ex-Rwake) and Phillip Schaaf, on guitar and drums respectively. The line-up was later filled out with Rwake’s Jeff Morgan and CT joining on bass and synth, and then further still by Alan Short on guitar and Reid Raley on (another) bass. The band’s promising debut The Head and the Heart was released in 2004 and its excellent follow-up Twilight Ritual surfaced in 2008. After that, things went all quiet on the Deadbird front – many of the band members worked on their ‘main’ projects, and in CT’s case, also on the Slow Southern Steel documentary (which is well worth a watch for sludge metal fans). However, ten years on and Deadbird are now finally back with their third album III: The Forest Within the Tree, released through 20 Buck Spin.
The album’s title should give you a decent enough clue on the ideas Deadbird are playing with here – this is an introspective and reflective piece that broods over the individual and the broader perspective. It’s a personal yet wide-ranging theme that matches the naturalistic and bone-chilling character of Deadbird’s music. Opening with ‘The Singularity’’s haunting combination of slow plucked acoustic guitar, vocal harmonies and sample of swishing winds, the backwoods feel of III: The Forest Within the Tree is set out early. With southern states roots, Deadbird apply an overarching blues and country influence to their sludge metal over the majority of III…, albeit as a subtle undercurrent at times, but there’s a definite raw and down ‘n’ dirty feel to all of the music. This is maybe epitomised by ‘Brought Low’ and the last ‘proper’ song ‘Bone & Ash’, which has a punky, backyard kegger edge similar to Black Tusk that gradually descends into a slow, crushing finale with multiple screams and pained cries.
Even though there are contributions from all six members, the bulk of the main vocals are provided by Chuck Schaaf and Alan Short, and vary from grunge-style clean, echoey singing to more aggressive screams and growls. This blend in styles works well, and the progression of Schaaf’s vocal performance on ‘Brought Low’ is very effective, starting with a mesmerising bellow and switching after the break, with backing from other members, to a devastating crescendo of throat-shredding howls.
As with many albums like this, it took a few listens for me to get my head round some of the more densely packed moments, such as the closing minute of ‘Brought Low’, as there is often a lot going on with the big, fuzzy riffs, meandering soloing, rumbling bass, and CT’s ever-present synth noises. The album’s decent sound mix cleverly adds to the earthy atmosphere, and it’s not entirely focused on the thick, mud-caked riffage; at times the guitars are set back in the mix allowing the synth some prominence to build atmosphere and the bass to drive everything forward. At around 40 minutes, and a bit of filler aside (the instrumental ’11:34′, bafflingly named ‘0.481944…’ on Spotify, goes nowhere), III: The Forest Within the Tree is well-balanced and neatly paced, bookended by the aforementioned ‘The Singularity’ and the creepy phasing of ‘Ending’.
It may have been a long ten-year wait for existing fans but III: The Forest Within the Tree is an excellent reminder of Deadbird’s ability to produce a gloomy and eerie sludge dirge, and is unique enough within this genre to hopefully draw in many new fans of the band.