posted on 5/2011 By:
I've spent the better part of the last five years basically misunderstanding Chicago's Indian. Hell, one might even take that statement an additional leap forward and say I've been misunderstanding the entire sludge genre to date, based on the general lack of long-players from pure sludge bands sitting on my shelf. I used to believe my greatest issue was with the gravelly/shouted vocal style that generally governs the sludge roost, but I've since come to realize that my main point of contention actually digs deeper and lies rooted in the fact that I don't particularly enjoy the brand of discomfort this genre often paints my mood. Creepy discomfort: fine. Depressing discomfort: sure. Eighty pound warhammer discomfort: bring it on. But the level of sludgy unease dished out by bands like Indian paints an entirely different picture that conjures fetal-positioned junkies endlessly scraping invisible cockroaches from their skin -- something I've generally avoided when trying to uncover new bands.
Time and circumstances can be a funny thing, though. With so many of today's bands melding so many styles together, I've found myself slowly building up my pure sludge appreciation to the point where my Grief collection finally has a pile of albums to call friends. But I'd still admit to being finicky and mostly prefer those who pitch a "fevered" atmosphere to periodically soothe things in some manner. And therein lies the reason why I decided to sign up for Guiltless, Indian's fourth full-length and inaugural journey with the all-consuming Relapse Records. The addition of Will Lindsay (Middian/Wolves in the Throne Room) on guitar opened a new window of opportunity in terms of smoothing out some of the rankling atmosphere that's dominated Indian releases in the past. And whether or not Good Sir William is the catalyst or simply a willing participant to this slight shift to a smoother, more melodious Indian, the end result has produced an album I'd finally agree is worthy of the wide accolades I've seen this band net over the years.
First and foremost, I'd say Guiltless is the heaviest album the band's managed to muster to date. This has as much to do with its thick production as it does the generally heavier lean to the overall songwriting, but the weight behind this beast finally nails home the point that Indian must level the living shit out of people when they take to the stage. The riffing, while cleaner than previous efforts, is tractor-heavy, and Bill Bumgardner's bruising rhythm beautifully drives home the browbeating with a particularly convincing performance from start to finish. (I also find it interesting that it's taken an album like Guiltless to finally show me just how big a role Bill plays when it comes to Indian splitting skulls -- perhaps further testament to the record's solid production. Or just a prime example of me finally getting my head out of my ass.)
As mentioned, Guiltless does find the band tempering their formula a shade or two by marching out a couple new tricks. Opener "No Grace" tromps from the gate with all the grace of a fuming cave bear, but eventually settles into a fluid stretch of calm capped off by a surprisingly relaxing and upliftingly melodic conclusion, while "The Fate Before Fate" follows with an epic charge that eventually buries a distinctly 'modern US black metal' flavor beneath the band's trademark pounding clip. But these early pleasantries swirled within the opening ten minutes get knocked-the-fuck-out by the time the midpoint of Guiltless struts into the spotlight.
The self-titled track, "Guilty" and "The End of Truth" shelve most everything to do with 'melodic' in favor of pounding discomfort through your dome in a manner very similar to a straight-jacketed maniac continually belting his head against the wall. "Guiltless" does so with a syrupy, crawling stride reinforced by Sean Patton's bitter "noise" (is this an instrument now?), and the latter pair combine their efforts with a greater emphasis on punishing with a rude, clobbering swing. A last flash of repose thankfully pops up with the brief acoustic show of "Supplicants" before the record closes with an additional 9-minutes of rankling racket in "Banality" that properly slam-dunks your brain squarely in the crapper.
I realize my assumption that Indian essentially wants to shit on your mood is open to interpretation; some folks beam with delight after absorbing this level of…illness and torment. But I do feel the band has wisely incorporated a few additional elements necessary to snare those folks who've spent the band's previous years simply scratching their heads. Finding a way to strike a balance or even attempt to strike a balance can go a very long way if you're interested in taking things to the next level, and Guiltless handily strikes an odd sort of sludge symmetry that's sure to please old and new fans alike. Definitely recommended.
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