Escape Is Not Freedom doesn’t adhere to the atypical sludge metal style. Complementing crushing riffs and fuzzy sludge metal breakdowns with alternative rock overtones accurately describe their creative style. Surrounded by the Great Nothing, their latest release, follows a similar structure but also incorporates elements of noise rock and 90s grunge.
Kicking off the album is “Brick,” which begins with a series of distorted yet timid riffs, right before a battering ram assaults you in the form of crushing beats and hypnotic rhythms. There’s no sense of holding back on this track. Between the emotion-laden screaming vocals and the booming beats, you get a sense of the immense talent and eclectic styles prevalent on the record.
The entertaining diversity continues with “Boomslang,” where the vocal styles transition to a more soothing one, a stark contrast to the album’s opener. The cacophonous melodies and intense rhythms seamlessly transition into a more mellow reprieve, illustrating the band’s ability to sway between different sounds of music with a flip of the switch. The dynamic approach is also evident on “Freezer Burn,” where a rather solemn introduction lulls you into a trance before raising the distortion to the max and breaking out some furious riffage. As someone that finds listening to the same genre over and over tediously mundane, it’s rather refreshing to come across an album where a band is unfettered by spreading their wings, infusing the music with creativity rather than relying on stale song structures. Particularly impressive is how the vocals seem to mimic the tempo of the music. Mike Gussis, the band’s vocalist and guitarist, employs a softer style on the more contemplative tracks, right before throwing all emotion into the music with the more uptempo tracks.
The monumental “Leonard” clocks in at over eight-minutes and is easily the most impressive track on the record by far. The flair for creative and unorthodox imagination is vividly on display here, with the band saving their best effort for their longest track. The visceral journey commences with a hypnotic rhythm juxtaposed by screaming vocals, bringing listeners on for an emotional ride. Vintage doom/sludge metal influences push through the surface by introducing a more mechanical pace in the middle of the track, building up to the song’s climax that proceeds at a furious pace. “Acid Blood” is another immensely impressive track, with the vocal range of Mike Gussis converting the song into a more substantial, rougher version of grunge; a gleaming testament to the brilliant musicianship of the entire band. The melancholy vocals recall days of early 90s experimental rock, creating an unbridled wave of nostalgia.
Unfortunately, while Surrounded by the Great Nothing finds its success with diversity, the tough-to-pinpoint style seems to blend individual tracks into one song, making it rather difficult to discern one tune from another. While that’s not a significant roadblock to enjoying the album, it does make it challenging to recall more than a couple of songs after listening. I wish the band would have expanded on creativity and fresh elements such as the riffs on “Underwater Birth,” which has a slightly exotic feel on an album that’s heavily reliant on distortion.
In the end, Surrounded by the Great Nothing is a supremely entertaining listen from a band that deserves far more recognition than they currently have at the moment. All preconceived notions of sludge metal should be thrown out of the window before listening to this record as they subvert your expectations quite nicely.
Written by Jonathan Berthold
*edited by Danielle Kenedy