Sludge is, at its core, disgusting. It needs to have a bass-heavy mix so grimy that Severus Snape himself would tell it to wash itself for God’s sake. Beyond that, the field is wide open. You have the trippy-as-hell Baroness, the Russian storytellers in Neurosis and the all-conquering Mastodon, who redefine themselves every time they release an album. They’re the big three, but there are hundreds of other bands vying for their time in the limelight, and one of them is Australian-based I Exist.
I actually don’t know how these guys have managed to record a third album. They are literally always on tour. Seriously, at any given moment there’s a show going on somewhere in Australia that has I Exist somewhere on the bill. It’s a work ethic you don’t get much these days, and it’s good to see that it’s translated into what is easily their best album. Their blend of rock n’ roll, sludge, death metal and doom is seamless. To get a rough idea of what From Darkness brings to the table, think of what would happen were you to down-tune Red Fang by about three octaves, give them the shittiest sound quality this side of scout hall PA systems, and Nathan Small as the vocalist and you got it.
I admit that sounds absolutely, unrelentingly and unforgivably terrible, but damnit, sometimes if you eat enough ice cream and charcoal, you shit a diamond (just me?). This album has fantastically catchy riffs and it flows really well. The whole album is consistent and adheres to a working formula for its run-time, and it’s just fun. It’s sludgy doom that you can have a hoedown to. Who are you to argue with that?
There are two standout tracks: “Bloodlust” and the title track. “Bloodlust” is a vengeful tune, sliding between being a hateful slow-burner and a balls-to-the-wall thrash track that socks you in the mouth with a sack of doorknobs, and you’ll enjoy it too. The eleven-minute title track, on the other hand, is completely all over the place. It’s got the thrash, the brooding interludes, the Southern finger-pickin’ guitar solos, and the slow moments that let the pot heads catch up on their joint and push their irrational paranoia to the side for a few seconds. It’s just amazing.
Of course, there are issues. First and foremost, a lot of these songs sound similar. They rely heavily on drum-fill intros and thrash drumbeats intertwined with rock n’ roll riffing. Again, these are all good things, it’s just that you need to listen a few times before you can immediately differentiate the tracks, and as good as these songs are, the first half drags a bit and can push listeners away.
That’s a shame, because the second half of From Darkness is eons beyond the first half. From “Bloodlust” to “From Darkness” are thirty of the best minutes in the history of sludge or doom, and you’d be a fool to dismiss this record as a mere flash in the pan. I Exist mean business, and From Darkness is a reflection of both their work ethic and their considerable talent.