Label: Tartarus Records
A bit of (pre)history to start the review: a menhir is a standing stone, most commonly found in Western Europe, but also in parts of Africa and Asia. Difficult to date, they are often found near buildings or sites of religious significance from several millenia B.C. It’s kind of fitting, then, that Dutch trio Menhir conjure up a suitably weighty brand of sludge metal – the kind of doom that seems somehow separate from history, almost as if it exists one step removed from the modern world. Whereas most sludge is content to wallow in the filth and dirt, Hiding In Light instead looks to the heavens, reaching up in pursuit of something more than what the mundane offers. By turns, it is as heavy as the heavens and as glorious as the stars; a journey to the beyond conveyed in three songs.
As you’d hope for, considering the images and emotions evoked by Hiding In Light, there’s far more at play here than straight-forward sludge. For sure, there’s no lack of lumbering riffs and pummeling drums, topped off with vocals bellowed from somewhere beyond time; but there’s also some psychedelic and more adventurous touches that give the EP character and scope beyond what you might expect a sludge record to possess. Each of the three tracks possess moments where Menhir truly take flight in to the beyond, be it the swirling effects part-way through opener “Scalar Field”, the subtle background movements of the closing title track, or the highlight of the EP during second track “Image From Void”, when Menhir use their dual-vocal attack to truly rousing effect over a more spacious section of music. Menhir’s version of sludge is incredibly vast, full of the horrors and excitement of the cosmos and our earliest ancestral memories.
There’s plenty on offer for those looking for a fine selection of heavy riffs, too. That the band utilize two bass guitars means that the riffs are often incredibly heavy, but there’s also plenty of subtle elements at play to keep them interesting, and the absence of a traditional guitar is never missed. That the band balance such seemingly contradictory elements – with moments of earth-shattering heaviness sitting comfortably alongside sections of astral wonder – makes Hiding In Light a surprisingly enjoyable listen for sludge, whilst lacking none of the raw, primal power you would hope to find in such music. The self-given descriptor of “astrosludge” is certainly well earned. And as for the packaging? Tartarus Records have certainly come up with something special, packaging the cassettes in solid silicon rubber – but despite how it looks, don’t try and eat it!
Hiding In Light is available via Tartarus Records on cassette, limited to 100 copies (20 in mystery colours, 80 in black with gold).