If you told the members of Louisiana’s Eyehategod back in, say, 1993 (when their masterpiece Take As Needed For Pain was released) that they would, 20 years later, be seen as the founders of a whole genre and a heavy metal institution, they’d have probably laughed in your face. Then sent you packing with expletives and violent threats ringing in your ears. Then got back to downing their cocktails of booze and drugs, happy to be perennial outsiders camped out on the dusty forgotten back-roads of music history. But the vagaries of musical fashion have a tendency to throw up surprises, and Eyehategod’s progression from underground sonic terrorisers to global cult stars is one of the bigger ones out there. And now, 14 years after their last studio album, Confederacy of Ruined Lives, they’re ready to take advantage of some of this built-up love with a new self-titled release. It’s appropriate for the band to have named the album Eyehategod because, after such a long absence (on record, at least), they needed to make a statement. The preparations for the album’s release were thrown into disarray last year when drummer Joey LaCaze died of respiratory failure, although he had managed to record his drum parts before passing. With such a key figure gone, the remaining members perhaps felt the need to close ranks (apart from bringing in a new drummer, of course) but also to carry the flame of LaCaze. As a band and individuals, they’ve been through hellfire and sorrow, drug abuse and insanity, but they’re still here, and Eyehategod seems to have been so named to affirm this. Oh, and it contains everything that makes Eyehategod the unique proposition that they are. It’s an Eyehategod album in excelsis, if you like.
I wasn’t sure it would live up to expectations when I first heard it, mind you. Some of the tracks seemed too fast, too close to the hardcore that had always tainted Eyehategod’s sludge but never before been allowed to dominate. Shock, horror — was it me or did some of the tracks, such as opener “Agitation! Propaganda!” sound a bit clean? A bit, dare I say it, mainstream? Of course, I was an arse. This is what Eyehategod do: they blend all their influences (Sabbath, the blues, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Flag) in the most belligerent and in-your-face manner possible. “Agitation! Propaganda!” and “Parish Motel Sickness” might have initially sounded a bit Pantera-esque, but Eyehategod could never keep something so structured up, could they? Tracks that start off like chugging SUVs rapidly collapse into walls of soggy feedback and loping drum beats. “A Quitter’s Offensive” is almost 1970s-like in its initial bouncy moments, but before long it becomes a torrent of extended riffs, malformed solos and plodding rhythms.
Above all, Mike IX Williams is still at the helm on vocals. Constantly imitated but never emulated, Williams is one of metal’s greatest singers, a precursor who doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. His anguished shriek is like a reflection of all the hatred, pain and dread that anyone has ever felt, as if he’s pulling the words straight out of the head of an asylum patient. Compared to Mike Williams, all those corpse-painted growlers fronting the endless roll-call of black metal bands are about as imposing or unsettling as Justin Bieber. And his voice hasn’t aged with its owner. It’s still beyond raw (and beautifully, terrifyingly given centre stage on the album’s standout track “Flags and Cities Bound”), still sounds like a blueprint for Alan Dubin or The Body’s Chip King.
Eyehategod doesn’t quite climb the heights of Take As Needed For Pain or Dopesick, but that’s not really the point. The point is that the band is still the hardest, meanest, most brutal metal band in the South, and a good contender for the world crown. And still going strong, despite everything. Eyehategod lives — that’s all we need!