Tape Wyrm XLII: The Exquisite Death of Post Metal Tape Wyrm XLII: The Exquisite Death of Post Metal

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Atmospheric Sludge / Post Metal (1999-2002)

I wanted to do a post metal article for a while. I also wanted to really find out what atmospheric sludge was and if it differed from post metal. Post metal, quite simply, is the combination of heavy metal and post rock. If you want to think about it even simpler, it is heavy instrumental music. At least that is what it is now. It used to be different. Or not at all. Atmospheric sludge is a name that has been used interchangeably with post metal and may be the same thing. Or separate entities. This is what I want to find out. I will consider post metal and atmospheric sludge two different phases apart of the same timeline. A timeline which changed at the turn of the century. This came around the same time old post rock became new post rock. I assume you can stay awhile while I explain.

For those familiar with post rock, the style was different in the 90’s when compared to the contemporary sound started in the 00’s. Bark Psychosis’ Hex is vastly different than Earth is not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky. I mark the transition between old and new post rock with a late 90’s / early 00’s set of releases such as Young Team by Mogwai, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Ágætis Byrjun by Sigur Ros. These albums segment or act as a bridge between post rock’s artsy and unpredictable beginnings (Slint, Talk Talk) to the later cinematic and structured developments (Do Make Say Think, God Is An Astronaut). It was these releases that shared both elements and ushered in the newer style to replace the old. At around the same time, atmospheric sludge, a weird concoction of doom, hardcore, and experimental music changed and became something more recognizable — post metal.

“Post metal” really wasn’t used as a term until the early 00’s with mid era Isis releases. The combination of post rock and heavy metal would then apply to the newer post rock being made at the time. Whatever came before was just a weird emotional primordial soup filled with artsy atmosphere and experimentation. The predawn of any style is filled with wild and fascinating additions that would later be tinkered and tempered. While it sounds ridiculous to say, I enjoy post metal now but I really liked it when it was atmospheric sludge; or more when the style received its unknown catalyst and began a dark chemical reaction. If I can imagine post metal’s chemical reaction as anything it would be dark purple electric bolts on top of a slick black sludge.

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neurosis_timesofgrace_02Neurosis – Times of Grace (1999)

First of all, any conversations on post metal or atmospheric sludge or any other style you think I am making up would be lacking without specific contributions from Neurosis. Actually, to bring us up to this point, Neurosis had a long line of critically important records including 1995’s Through the Silver in Blood which set everything that had been happening before with moody sludge in motion. What had been happening before includes earlier Neurosis work and horrifying records by Godflesh and Swans. Times of Grace is not the best album by Neurosis, rather it is an amazing record that sits in a sturdy arc of amazing records. Starting here would be fine as the elements of hardcore, doom, sludge, and artsy atmosphere would begin their transformation that was finally realized in later Neurosis work.

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lvmen-raison-detreLvmen – Raison d’être (2000)

Screamo has its own history and its own set of problems. Aside from being used in place of heavy metal by people with no knowledge of heavy metal its style has gone through some embarrassing moments, which has lead to a litany of regrets from its fans. This is a shame since turn of the century screamo matched all the emotional and structural components we are discussing. It was actually more noisy neighbors to whatever abandoned house we are in now. Aside from the long track lengths and angst littered for miles across this record, the underground atmosphere buries everything that leads to a basement of hate.

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87415Dirge – Blight and Vision Below a Faded Sun (2000)

Dirge is usually forgotten in classroom discussions of atmospheric sludge and post rock. This group of Parisian youths put out a damn fine debut in 1998 and followed it with a second album that within a timeline shows the building instrumental structure of post metal. While there are still the distant cries of sludge , the atmosphere in Blight and Vision Below a Faded Sun is remarkably different. Almost subterranean. This band would eventually blossom into a remarkable post metal band with the 2007 release Wings of Lead over Dormat Seas which is great because I just knew they would go places.

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1549331084-1Old Man Gloom – Seminar II / III (2001)

Alright here we go. Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism and Seminar III: Zozobra were one and a half full lengths recorded by the Massachusetts sludge/doom supergroup Old Man Gloom. Following a pretty decent and standard debut in 2000, Old Man Gloom, lead by Aaron Turner of Isis, enlisted the help of Cave In’s Caleb Scofield and Converge’s Nate Newton. While Old Man Gloom was birthed in the arms of seething animosity, the releases in 2001 were something awful and terrifying. Awful in a good way. Maybe it was the weird ass electronics which provided the central nervous system for these releases. Whatever it is, it makes my skin crawl like hornets in a sock.

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Isis_CelestialIsis – Celestial / Signal 05 (2001)

We are going to be talking about Isis again just as we are going to be talking about Neurosis again.
Isis began in the 90’s with some very caustic Eps like Mosquito Control, The Red Sea, and Sawblade. Whatever Isis was then is not what they became. Celestial is the debut from Isis with SNGL>05 a follow up EP. Celestial is amazing and perhaps one of my favorite Isis records for its ferocity. It is strange talking about groove in terms of sludge but Celestial has an undeniable rhythm that sounds like mountains crumbling while they sway. The releases are also obsessed with female archetypes and towers. It crushes like cinderblock against a shallow puddle. Celestial was important because it was a landmark of old Isis before another transformation with their next release Oceanic.

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190Neurosis – A Sun That Never Sets (2001)

We already discussed Neurosis and their release Times of Grace in 1999. For now it will do. While the seventh album from Neurosis had the same type of atmosphere and texture as their sixth, A Sun That Never Sets was different. It was different in the fact that its structure was more stretched and time seemed to pass slower through its channels. This isn’t just because the DVD accompanying the album looks like it was shot through a dirty plate glass window. For my own narrative, it is this release which marks the final apex transition from atmospheric sludge into post metal. It is at this point where hardcore elements would become memories and swelling crescendos would become family.

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Breach-Kollapse-2001-iRO (1)Breach – Kollapse (2001)

Just like Lvmen, it is interesting to investigate post metal from all angles. Breach is not a new post metal band, which started in 2001, but rather a Swedish post hardcore act that ended at the release of Kollapse. In fact, the name and album art is very indicative of the music on this record. Sure, while bands like Cult of Luna and 5ive were just getting their start, Breach’s final album would be a phenomenal masterpiece in the violent birth of post metal. Caught somewhere between atmospheric sludge and tension wrought instrumental passages, Kollapse would be the bands perfection marked with chilling emotion and outright vehemence for absolutely fucking everyone on the goddamn planet. Combine this with the band’s final EP, Godbox, in 2002 and you will not want to get up in the morning.

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01_cult_of_lunaCult of Luna – Cult of Luna (2001)

Personally I never got into Cult of Luna as much as Isis or Neurosis. This does not mean I am not aware of the countless number of praises given unto this Swedish post metal band. The 2001 debut is impressive. In fact it fits perfectly within this timeline. Songs like “The Sacrifice” still showcase the harsh hardcore tradition while the cello flourishes in “Sleep” give the record its own identity. I understand why Cult of Luna is important and even though I do not like them as much as others, they make sense right at this moment.

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12471Isis – Oceanic (2002)

If this article has taught you anything it is that I have constructed a narrative based around Neurosis and Isis releases. Oceanic is phenomenal and stands as one of my favorite releases from the 00’s. It was a release in which the general population was moved into new music, regardless of style. Isis’s continuation loose storyline started in Celestial and The Red Sea would coalesce into something a larger audience appreciated. Things made sense in Oceanic. The structure. The rhythm. The flow. The metaphysical and philosophical undertones. The allusions to water. This made sense and finally shaped itself to be recognizable to fans and a generation of bands influenced by this record. This was music that sounded like heavier post rock. This sounded like post metal.

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I feel the narrative of post metal could be continued to 2004. It was this year that Isis’s Pantopticon, Neurosis’ Eye of Every Storm, The Ocean’s Fluxion, Callisto’s True Nature Unfolds, and Cult Of Luna’s Salvation were released to critical acclaim. I guess in a narrative 2004 could be considered a golden age or high point for post metal. In 2004 post metal was completely different than its atmospheric sludge beginnings. Even though 2004 saw a myriad of releases, I still find the transition between old and new more interesting. There was more uncertainty in the music and things had an air of wild experimentation. Not all of it worked but for the most part everything was genuine. We even had post hardcore and screamo releases. I still do not know if the title makes sense. I think it was just chosen for effect and atmosphere. Maybe it makes more sense than initially thought.



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