Athens, Georgia’s Harvey Milk has been making some of the smartest, tightest sludge metal out there for nearly 20 years, dealing in growls, grimaces, and distortion like they never have and never will go out of style. This is just the group’s second record since their reunion in 2006. 2008’s Life…The Best Game In Town was loved by some, but others found it too accessible. The band themselves might not have even liked it: In an interview with Exclaim!, vocalist/guitarist Creston Spiers called the record their “suckiest yet.”
So, if you want to not be “sucky” and your last record was accessible, you open your new one with a crawling, crushing instrumental piece. That opener is “*”, the minuscule symbol seeming to suggest that they couldn’t give enough of a shit to come up with a title, that the depth of sound produced by Spier’s guitar and drummer Paul Trudeau’s cymbals speak for themselves. The piece sounds like a fuzzed-out Tortoise set to “SLOW” and turned up to 11. After enough cycles of riff, the album flows seamlessly and turgidly into “I Just Want To Go Home”, new, sky-scraping guitar wails cutting across the top of the track. Spier’s vocals kick in shortly, his brutish groans dramatic, tragic, an offer to reconsider what to take seriously. “What’s fucking funny?” he warbles in an earthy bass, immediately before bemoaning “One more fish stick night”.
The quick, lightning bolts of drum and guitar that open “I Am Sick of All This Too” comprise a super-simple riff that repeats itself with building flourishes, kicking you in the head over and over. This combined with Spier’s repetitions of the title paint a picture without any hope or even positive thought. “I Know this Is No Place For You” follows just as fluidly as the last few tracks, Steve Tanner’s bass and Spier’s guitar swooping as close to up as Harvey Milk will get. Yet, the lyrics are still as big and melancholy as the rest of the disc. “What kind of father will I be?” Spier groans, another question in the album’s line of uncertainty and gloom. This stab at the heart goes beyond questioned parenthood though; it’s a questioning of life’s worth.
“I Alone Got Up and Left” follows, the same drum beat, the same slowly building storm, the same enveloping, oozing doom. Tanner bruises the base of the track as Spier’s guitar cranks and churns into space. The harmonized vocals near the end of the track add a near discordant feeling to the mix, contributing some extra chaos.
The last two tracks continue the flow perfectly, “I Know This Is All My Fault” kicking off with quiet, building horror soundtrack synths. The clanging, distorted guitar and heavy drums pile on top of the synth, a light, loose bit of theater. The guitar falls away, replaced by a piano version of a similar structure. “It’s not all bad,” Spiers admits underneath an murky mess, a near-humorous glimpse of light ironically covered in scuz. This hope leads into “I Did Not Call Out”, which opens in a majestic fashion, the guitar back, harmonized, soaring. But, as suggested by the rest of the album, this will not last, and the piece falls apart, falling like slime onto the ground.
Harvey Milk successfully took a step away from Life…The Best Game In Town, finding themselves denser, darker, slower. There are a few positive moments, but things are low-down, for the most part. It’s got its own vision, its own emotional core that mourns and warbles tragically. The feelings hit square in the chest. But, only time will tell how “sucky” Spiers finds this one.