Cleveland’s finest purveyors of the riff, Contra, busted my nose up with brass knuckles in the form of 2015’s Son of Beast EP. A storm n’ swell of throttling blues riffs and homing missile rhythms, the instrumental trio comprising members of some of my favorite Ohio heavies were off to a greater than excellent start. Since that time they’ve added blown-lung vocalist Larry Bent from scrappy hardcore unit Don Austin and the result is their forthcoming vinyl LP Deny Everything. A few tracks are up as a preview on Bandcamp, but this lucky son of a fuck was given the opportunity to review the whole damn thing early. Fans of paint peeling, carpet staining, doom-y sludge blues are going to want to have this one on their radar for 2017.
It’s clear that Bent isn’t around to do good deeds and pretty things up on opener “Human Buzzsaw” where his rabies bitten, hardcore bark lends a new set of warts to the band’s infectious yet ugly sound. Chris Chiera’s signature riffs are in full-effect; Sabbath via ZZ-Top grooves welded to the thickness of Cavity, Eyehategod and Chiera’s own stellar work in Sofa King Killer. Chris is that perfect split of tone, swing and skill in terms of his guitarwork and his style always sticks out in a crowd. Brain-scrambling leads eventually culminate in a forest fire solo while Adam Horwatt’s bass maintains a stalker’s presence on a playground and Aaron Brittain hammers the skins with bone-dry snare whiplash (his usual mixture of hard-edged filling and pocket beats driving this beast onward through the swamps). The upbeat attack eventually breaks every axle on a mongering doom crawl which congeals seamlessly into the mangy molasses muck of “Snake Goat,” a returning title defender from the Son of Beast EP. Larry’s voice is sandblasted into oblivion with a raw meat scream equal parts throaty midrange and scratchy violence. He’s exactly what this song calls for in the vocal department and I’m glad Contra went for a dirty, ballsy singing approach instead of a straight crooner. It works without a hitch and gives added weight to this track’s maximum density, primordial ooze sludge that slithers at a raunchy mid-tempo that’ll be familiar to fans of Dopesick and Master of Brutality. I give extra props for the post-midsection’s channel changing, left-to-right panning guitar riffs throwing a call n’ response party with Aaron’s increasingly harrowing drumming. This is a future sludge classic right here but the limber rhythms and dynamic 70s soulfulness refines “Snake Goat” with more vintage boogie-woogie even though the tones and towering vocal roars make God look like a 2 lb pipsqueak.
“Altered Beast” is another newbie, comin’ at you like Karma to Burn on a moonshine bender. Plenty of cowbell peppers the busy, fill-plastered backbeat as Chiera’s riffage chews trees and drinks lakes for breakfast. Horwatt keeps things fluid and flowing with an overload of sinkhole bass lines which provide a canvas for Chris to paint on in brushstrokes of megaton blues riffs, dueling leads and solos. I’m pretty sure Adam plays guitar on a few of these tracks as well, so he might be involved in the Gorham/Robertson molded mania unfolding here. Either way there’s no downtime to be found in this pulverizing instrumental assault. Brittain sets the tone on “The Gorgon” with a cutthroat polyrhythm; a frenzied workout of lockstep tom/snare bulrushes the eardrums and beats you laugh happy while your eyes catch a riff billowing up in the distance. A lecherous groove milks a hooker’s tit and her street smarts for a punk rock curmudgeon full of wooly wah-solos, white-washed NYC noise guitar and bulldozing power chords. The aggressiveness of this jam further enforces the fact that Larry Bent was THE man to wrangle the mic that Contra needed. A revisited “Humanoid Therapy” benefits from squalid vocal squalor poured with pissed-off gusto over a hook-infested bluesy riff wallop that gets devoured by the rot-toothed mouth of doom…taking a page outta the Grief/Noothgrush tempo playbook in terms of sparse, agonizing sloth.
To my memory “Son of Beast” didn’t appear on its namesake EP but here it rears its venomous fangs to the ill will of man. Crippled n’ crusty like a walker wielding great grandfather overloaded on liquor, the bluesy riffs are hobbled to fit the spine curvature of 16, Crowbar and Cruevo…hardcore, strychnine swilling sludge is the name of the game and the players are more than up to the task of giving it the authenticity which I find to be the calling card of the style’s best bands. Aaron’s swooping snare fills yield this shambling nightmare tons of movement and a slinky liveliness while Chiera’s riffs change on a dime from stuttering, stop/start Sabbath grooves to heady hardcore sent through a filthy sludge filtration system. Bent’s Marlboro cooked voice sends “Bottom Feeder” spiraling into the abyss alongside the Red Baron’s victims; sharpshooter riffs and demonically possessed rhythms intertwining in a breathtaking mesh of grit and groove that keeps its audience in the crosshairs ducking for cover. It was one of my favorites off of Son of Beast and now feels fully fleshed. “100 Hand Slap” is also back from the grave and they decided to keep this southern-fried stomper instrumental. With a band this airtight in every area, there are no complaints to be had and the tune had me fondly recalling how Sofa King Killer’s mighty Midnight Magic took a smooth, wordless breather from time to time by throwing the blues on electric overdrive.
Deny Everything closes with fresh material. “Dr. Goldfoot’s” introductory blues-rock riff is severed with a piercing screech of feedback before dreg combing sludge and detuned, staccato hardcore tear your brainstem in half. The licks n’ solos are hotter than Hell and the doubled-up leads again reek of Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden drowning in a fetid Louisiana marsh. At 7:41 in length, closer “Shrimp Cocktail” is easily the album’s heaviest offering. With a mid-tempo riff repeating like an acid mantra, HUGE rotten sludge breaks bolstered by palm-muted sleaze and droning wah, drop out on life solos, some of Brittain’s most dogged and sloth-y timekeeping, putrid low-end and a blood-drooling spray of spiteful screaming there is no doubt sludge purists will be pleased. It’s a massive display of tonnage all around and one the band wisely decided to place at the album’s end.
There is no bullshit on Deny Everything’s 10 tracks of diseased disaster. The balance between groove and grime is masterfully handled by a quartet who couldn’t be better suited to play together. This record is nasty and gnarly enough to be lapped up by sludge fans who are sworn to the genre’s fuck you coda but with an open, arid approach to blues and classic rock n’ roll that’s associated with the stoner rock n’ rollers that stick by the 70s style. It’s a deranged blending of the two that hits right between the eyes, creating a very complete listen devoid of fluff and filler.[Visit the band's website]