I don’t know much about San Diego, nor do I know much about Cave Bastard. The former seems like this faraway, in-the-middle city in the States that you hear mentioned all the time but doesn’t really have any iconic status. Who knows, maybe I’m missing out on a hidden gem of the U.S.

Likewise, doomster troupe Cave Bastard are something a fair few people like myself have, ugh, painfully said to mates at parties and on Facebook Messenger, “Yeah-nah-yeah-yeah-nah heard of them, but not heard them, hey.” Well, I can certainly certify these guys are a hidden gem for sure.

Probably dragging gigantic clubs in a Neolithic group of cave-dwellers in some underground region of San Diego, complete with those hilarious monsters from the Tremors B-movie franchise (essential watching, by the way), the bastards lumber and heave with brutish stoicism through the labyrinthine underground with instruments that must weight ten tons, such is their density and drag.

Like pulled pork, ‘Throes of the Devourer’ kicks off meaty and low-n-slow, with echo-heavy leads sounding trapped in a wind tunnel or the obvious cave, swirling and cavernous. Slowly belching into view with a gigantic, slow chord progression that features just a tinge of dissonance in the soup. The title, the artwork, the logo, the slow grind of this song, it all delivers a sense of being trapped and forced deep underground, encircled by burning lava.

‘Neo Genesis’ blasts right out of nowhere, Marlon Matthew‘s (ex-Bridge Jumper) crashing cymbals and snare barely audible beneath the muck. Inhuman roars of vocalist Steve Pearce like those of a vengeful Balrog roar through alongside the Thrash Metal style one-two punching riffage by Nick Padron and Chase Ferguson (both also ex-Bridge Jumper). Troy Oftedal, formerly of Cattle Decapitation fame rounds out a group very experienced in shattering skulls. It’s readily apparent, too; a Death Metal pace resounds alongside roars and screeches that reverberate around the tightly played but dense-sounding miasma. A super-distorted bass riff interrupts the chaos to bring a beating breakdown, before launching back into furious swipes at the listener. Trilling and swirling bass and guitar break into an ending not unlike that of doom heroes Candlemass.

A deep inhale precedes the fast and high rasping shrieking of ‘Methane Epistaxis,’ defined by Wikipedia as “bleeding from the nostril, nasal cavity, or nasopharynx.” God damn. Fitting. At just a minute in length this song bludgeons you with a Dismember-style meat and potatoes Death Metal stomp, flinging as many chugging riffs, slides and speed runs as it can in the 1:06 song length. Sitting at my PC reviewing track-by-track, I closed VLC just in time for the track to close, and gave it several more listens, it was that good.

‘Massacre Reaction’ lurches a leviathan from the shadows with Mastodon-style riffs, a classic proto-extreme-Metal stomp with super distorted bass and marching drums and guitars. A brief up-tempo section is dragged slowly back into the muck, akin to the creature clasping a screaming character in a cave horror and dragging them into the abyss. Shrieks like a pterodactyl in a confined space, and we’re back to the classic Metal square one. There’s nothing inventive on offer here, just a much more threatening version of our Metal godfathers. Off-putting arpeggios fly just above a heavy palm-muted section and the song abruptly rings out.

If only to make matters more hopeless, we trudge through ‘Trapped in a World of Formlessness.’ We’re too far down now, hallucinating all sorts of visuals in the dark, evil chords and plodding drums bouncing off the walls, wherever they may be. Even higher rasps, more reminiscent of Eyehategod or some super-slowed Black Metal than anything, and we get the visceral feeling of fumbling in a lightless void. This is a band who know exactly how to musically convey their aesthetic. This is a package deal. I’m just sitting here, silently nodding and imagining a hazardous underground world full of lava, bleak as the title implies. Tighter Black Metal-style chords appear from the vapour, stop/start riffing abruptly breaking the stumble into a higher level of anxiety. A simple but haunting solo over the top of tremoloing guitar and bass – then a Doom riff sizeable enough to grapple Gandalf. Fly, you fools! The song just gets nastier and nastier towards the end, snarling at you, mocking you from the shadows with a simple brutal Doom feel. Think Australia’s Pod People, but perhaps actual  pod people, leering at the interlopers from above.

Cave Bastard

‘Martial Asphyxiation’ ironically channels Asphyx quite well, a very classic old-school Death Metal romp with bass slides all over the place. Relentless marching death, punctuated mostly by distorted bass and then an absolutely pained rasp. Sounds like how choking on smoke feels, and it’s over in just over a minute.

Without much further ado, ‘Purity Through Oblivion’ starts with a chord that sounds like “Every Local Generic Metal Band Ever” but thankfully adds a hefty lurching mass on top, burying itself with thick groove. A more subtle waltz along with their middle-of-the-road-speed until the pace is picked up, chords are slid and sliced up and down into a jam between exploratory scale runs, sticking about three-quarters from full blast before going full speed ahead over super-malevolent leads and soloing. We are chased by a thunderous riff through the hallways until the song decides it’s had enough. For now.

Gasping for air, we suck in what’s left in our lungs to try and escape ‘Liar Betrayed,’ which stomps again between Death Metal chaos and more traditional proto-Metal fare. Venom Inc. have a huge influence here, albeit with nowhere near as much bite or fury. Soloing over screeching, blasty sections takes off back into speed before diving back to a crawling, breakdown stomp that could absolutely swallow up a neighbourhood, a giant sinkhole. As expected from such a heaving giant of an album, the thing envelops us towards the end with an absolutely disgusting Doom, Death and Black-influenced simplistic riff that slowly drowns out.

What can I say, save for this is one of the best surprises I’ve had in a while? ‘The Bleak Shall Devour the Earth’ is the definition of Sludge, the true sound of hopelessness inside the very bowels of the Earth.

GET YOUR HANDS ON CAVE BASTARD’S ‘THE BLEAK SHALL DEVOUR THE EARTH’ FROM BANDCAMP HERE!

Cave Bastard - The Bleak Shall Devour the Earth