Residual Dread is a titanically heavy album, steeped in a kind of gothic gloom, and so haunting in its laments that it threatens to split the heart even as it’s splintering bone. With both a persistently brutal punch and an emotionally devastating conveyance of grief and pain, the music repeatedly hits home with staggering force on multiple levels — all the way up until the final 4 minutes and 40 seconds of the album, when something unexpected and perhaps even more astounding happens. But I’ll come back to that in due course.
The album is the latest one by Golden Bats, the solo project of Australian musician Geordie Stafford (from Brisbane). It’s being released today, both digitally and on vinyl, by a label called Domestic La La, which seems a whimsical name for a carrier of such desolating sounds.
The mainly slow or mid-paced songs to be found here aren’t especially complex. They don’t brandish a lot of technical flash or flourish. Each one is built around a central riff and eventual variations on the theme, accented by soulful leads that seem to wail like spirits and by grievous, moaning solos, with the spectral shimmering of organ keys surfacing here and there.
Simple the songs may be, however the tones and the compositions have been tuned like a Stradivarius of suffering, supremely well-calculated to deliver punishment with tremendous primal force, and they’re so well-written that they’re very hard to forget.
The basic template is set by the opening track, “Trouble In the Sewers“. A melodramatic, slightly horror-tinged piano melody provides the introduction, and then Stafford’s massively distorted guitar comes in, picks up the piano melody, and moves with it in a lurching cadence over a lead-weighted pounding and snapping drum rhythm. You can almost feel the body bows of the song right in your gut, just as you feel the clawing chords and Stafford’s raw, larynx-ripping howls raking your brain.
Gloomy and doomed the music is, but also somehow fiery and body-shaking. And when the first of the album’s arresting solos unfurls, it pulls even more anguish from the music.
The staggering, stomping follow-on track, “Into the Silver Valley“, proves to be even more crushingly dismal, like the music for a march to the gallows, or the sounds of a giant excavation machine digging a mass grave and of a slow avalanche of corpses hitting the bottom of the trench, one after another. But like every one of the songs on the album, this one digs its cracked and corroded hooks into the listener’s head.
The leviathan-like stagger of “Nothing” provides no reprieve, lurching ever deeper into a tar pit of hopelessness with a massive yowling riff, guitar leads that squall and wail, and ghostly organ reverberations. The imposing destructiveness of “Eye Juices”, with its jagged, pile-driving percussive blasts introduces a more defiant yet still beleaguered mood, and near the end, the song gets a jolt of energy and really begins to jackhammer with a will.
The crackling electricity of that track continues into “Outer Body“. To be sure, it’s still brutish and barren, desolate and destructive, with a feeling of heart-plundering agony in the music. It was at around this point in the album when I heard it the first time that it occurred to me: If a boxer could hit this hard, he’d rupture a new organ in his opponent with each blow — and each sledge-heavy strike of this song triggers a new spurt of adrenaline, though there’s a hint of psychedelia in this song as well.
And then we reach the closer, an 11+ minute song called “The Crows Build a Fire in Front of the Owls…“, which proves to be the album’s standout track. Launched by the strains of a stately but dismal organ fanfare over a muffled metronomic beat, it becomes a funeral march, the organ notes continuing to ring and reverberate, pulsating like a struggling, sickly heart… or perhaps like the plaintive cawing of crows.
In the back half of the song, the drumming picks up speed, the riffing begins to burn, the rhythms shift into attacking mode, the organ begins to wail — and then everything surges to a boil, driven to epic heights by a glorious, fluid solo that shimmers and soars. Unexpectedly, the song thereby transforms into something rebellious, even warlike. There’s fight in the music, and the effect is riveting.
“Sludge” seems to be the genre label most commonly affixed to the music of Golden Bats, but that doesn’t seem exactly right in the case of this album. There are certainly some other ingredients in the mix as well. Regardless of what the best label might be, this is damned potent stuff, and although I’ve spilled a lot of words about it, the best thing to do is experience it for yourselves — which, fortunately, you can do right now, just below.
To buy the album:
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