In addition to having the weirdest song titles of the year, an album cover straight out of Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy, and a sound that is as violently unfashionable as it is charismatic, San Francisco's SLOUGH FEG manage to pull off the eccentric vibe of long-deleted 1982 "true metal" without descending into MANOWAR-derived cliché or wink-nudge irony. Think instead of the off-the-rails, young and hungry street-punks-on-metal vibe of Di'Anno-era MAIDEN, only mustier and more weirdly primeval. It's hard to explain where they're coming from, but there's no denying that SLOUGH FEG is a treasure of American metal.
Mainman Mike Scalzi has an odd, eccentric voice devoid of high-note histrionics, but his earnest conviction gives the songs an urgency that a more typical screamer would lack. SLOUGH FEG's influences come to a screeching halt at about 1983 — MAIDEN (especially), SABBATH, THIN LIZZY and the earliest PRIEST albums, maybe. The thing is, the sound is vintage, but there's no element of kitsch about it — the music has a timeless aura around it, and the songs are compelling, attaining a majestic and epic "concept album" feel despite a short running time and compact, concise songwriting.
SLOUGH FEG pack a lot of dynamics into 38 minutes — from the exuberant double-kick gallop of "I Will Kill You/You Will Die" (does a song title get any more metal than that?) to the plaintive acoustic lilt of "Atavism" and the shuffling mid-'70s SABBATH boogie of "Starport Blues". "Man Out of Time" and "Agony Slalom" have that LIZZY feel, a little bit of melancholy Irish feel and rollicking sea-shanty tempo to them (this record has some awesome drinking songs on it). The songs tend to run together without pause, as well, adding to the defiantly outdated concept of an album as a whole, meant to flow from one movement to the next. In the land of SLOUGH FEG, leads are still cool, riffs are king, and hoary mythological topics are delved into with no embarrassment or hip detachment. This record, put simply, rules!
If you long for the days when idiosyncratic bands like CIRITH UNGOL did their own thing, trends be damned, and you still seek out bands confident enough to follow their own warped-vinyl Muse, SLOUGH FEG will be right up your alley. They're old-school without being deliberately retro, they're melodic in a pre-power-metal way, and most importantly, they write great songs and play their asses off. This is definitely one of the best, and destined to be one of the most underrated, albums of 2005.