Demonic Death Judge are a sludge band from Finland, but you would be forgiven for thinking that they had crawled out of a bayou in Louisiana or had at least spent their last eight years as a band hanging out sippin’ whiskey with the likes of EyeHateGod and Weedeater. Seaweed is Demonic Death Judge’s third album and aside from a short split with Coughdust in 2015 is the five-years-in-the-making follow-up to Skygods.
Seaweed begins in a low and slow manner with the oppressively heavy “Taxbear” and then delves straight into the bluesy swagger of “Heavy Chase”, recalling early Monster Magnet with Toni Raukola’s extended soloing low in the mix throughout most of the track but coming to the fore for a commanding lead guitar finish. Both of these tracks are great and all, “Heavy Chase” especially, but Demonic Death Judge are closely emulating those aforementioned sludge progenitors.
Something that bands influenced by EyeHateGod seem to often miss out is the heavy dose of blues required to make that sound work, and throughout Seaweed Demonic Death Judge get this absolutely spot-on. They are ticking all the right boxes: there are riffs as thick as molasses, rolling basslines, 50-a-day vocals, and the odd soundbite sample between the walls of feedback, but there’s not enough to distinguish Demonic Death Judge from the dozens of other bands with that swampy sludge sound.
Thankfully, as an album, Seaweed progresses superbly and rewards those that listen in full with Demonic Death Judge not just relying on trudging out sludge tropes. Instead, the band infuse their style with elements of stoner psych similar to that of Colour Haze or Truckfighters. This somewhat sanguine sound properly begins on the title track, a third of the way through the album, when the band introduce a fuzzier and relatively lighter tone, and this continues for the rest of the 45-minute album. There are still dense and abyssal moments, such as the low-end mid-section of “Backwoods”, but from here on out things are more upbeat and drifty with a steady groove.
The guitar of Raukola sometimes takes on a heavily effected, swirling and aquatic feel, especially on the psychedelic instrumental “Cavity” and at other points is reminiscent of Clutch’s Tim Sult, all tone and wah-wah. The drumming from Lauri Pikka seamlessly switches from pummelling and energetic to slow and measured and back again to complement the rest of the band; the desert rock invoking cowbell on “Backwoods” was a nice surprise. The one element that doesn’t adapt with this introduction of hypnotic stoner elements to Demonic Death Judge’s sound are the vocals of Jaako Heinonen, which remain pretty much unchanged throughout the whole album. Somehow though the gargled vocals, think Dixie Collins at his most weather-beaten, fit no matter what the music is doing and help add to the aquatic theme and the tone of the album.
Going back to the start after having listened to Seaweed all the way through puts those first two songs into context within the dynamics of the album’s narrative, and what initially seemed like barely above average sludge is actually much more than that. It really pays to get to know this album and in the past week I’ve spent a lot of time listening to, and thoroughly enjoying, Seaweed.
In the five years since Skygods, Demonic Death Judge have developed their sound and improved their songwriting. Seaweed is the first essential sludge album of 2017.
Seaweed is out now