The Lowdown: Few myths have been beaten into the ground as badly as the adage that rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to represent danger. Within metal specifically, cultivating a dark aura is so par for the course that it’s actually one of the safest routes artists can take. Nevertheless, when the New Orleans sludgecore outfit Eyehategod roared their way to prominence in the ‘90s with albums like In the Name of Suffering and Dopesick, the woefulness that pervaded their music came from a genuine place. Where the majority of their peers tended toward exaggerated expressions of anger, Eyehategod’s forays into addiction, mental illness, and despair didn’t come across as an affectation, but as a raw glimpse into the human condition that cut all the way to the bone. Eyehategod didn’t need to draw from topics like Satan, war or serial murder to unsettle you, instead preferring to voice the kind of darkness that lives right under our noses.
Thirty-plus years later, the band remains as convincing as ever, even though it delivers more or less what we’ve come to expect by this point. With the arrival of the sixth studio effort A History of Nomadic Behavior — only the second proper album from the band over a 21-year stretch — longtime fans will recognize the familiar stew of molasses-slow riffs, hardcore punk energy, and throat-scraping vocals suffused with abrasion and groove. Somehow, the formula doesn’t feel any less charged than it felt in ‘92. In fact, you could argue that, this time, Eyehategod have tapped into something even more vital than in the past, with singer Mike IX Williams tackling pressing issues of the day like the COVID pandemic and last year’s civil unrest in the oblique, William Burroughs-inspired style that’s become his trademark.
The Good: A keen observer, Williams has honed his craft into a potent form of gutter poetry. Even when he growls seemingly unvarnished thoughts like “kill your boss” and “I live in a hole in the ground… motherf**ker!” there’s always a method to his madness, with a big-picture perspective that comes into the view when you zoom-out from what might at first appear to be random outbursts of negativity. Despite the band’s obvious metal and punk influences, however, Williams stands apart from the tough talking and political platitudes so often define both genres. He chose a strange point in the band’s career to reflect on the experience of being a traveling musician, but touring behind 2014’s self-titled album for three years had a profound impact on his perspective. The thrill of playing to enthusiastic crowds in parts of the world the band had never visited, mixed with feelings of exhaustion and homesickness, of being confined with the same people, and of being determined to keep going all spike the new album with jolts of hope — albeit a hope that sounds as caustic and malignant as ever.
Right from the start, with leadoff track “Built Beneath the Lies”, it’s clear that Eyehategod haven’t lost a step, even after the death of founding drummer Joey LaCaze in 2013 and the departure of longtime second guitarist Brian Patton in 2018. Still, there’s a difference between not losing a step and what the band accomplishes here. Sludge riffs shouldn’t sound this fresh after three decades, but Eyehategod have apparently grown more seasoned along the way. A History of Nomadic Behavior showcases a band that’s able to make its music more challenging while also being mindful of songcraft and being subtle about it in both respects. The main riffs on “Built Beneath the Lies” and “Three Black Eyes,” for example, stutter-stop so much they give the music a cadence not unlike the gait of a person who’s gotten used to walking on a broken leg that never properly healed. And yet both songs groove as hard as even the most direct, mosh-friendly breakdowns you can think of.
The Bad: To say the least, Eyehategod (and their circle of peers like COC and Down) have always worn their love of Black Sabbath on their sleeve, but Jimmy Bower pushes himself to come up with guitar parts that go beyond Iommi worship on A History of Nomadic Behavior. So when the track “Current Situation” starts off with the same old Vol. 4-styled crunch, it feels like a bit of a regression. That said, even that song never stoops to outright imitation, and most of the album captures the band working with a vocabulary that’s entirely its own.
The Verdict: Cheech and Chong once famously did a sketch where an acid-fried game-show contestant explains that he “played Black Sabbath at 78 speed and saw god.” A History of Nomadic Behavior flips that script, like you’re listening to Sabbath-inspired riffs at 16 rpm and seeing demons — not evil spirits, mind you, but the real-life demons each of us wrestles with in one form or another.
Essential Tracks: “Built Beneath the Lies”, “Current Situation”, “High Risk Trigger”, “The Trial of Johnny Cancer”
Pick up Eyehategod’s A History of Nomadic Behavior here, and stream the entire album below.