Written by: Continuous Thunder
As a self-proclaimed aficionado of slow metal here in the Village, I find sludge metal to be one of the more intriguing sub-genres. While it’s often described as a combination of doom metal and hardcore punk, the application of those influences can vary widely from artist to artist. Naturally, this leads to a diverse pool of artists that can be described as sludge. How else would you end up with bands like Melvins and Isis under the same umbrella? I’m not usually one to stress over the minutiae of hyper-specific sub-genres and when it comes to sludge, I tend to trust my ears and I know it when I hear it.
All that being said, They Grieve bring some heavy sludge.
Canada’s They Grieve is a two-piece sludge metal band of the ambient and drone variety, born as an attempt to blend their interests in both ambient and doom music. To Which I Bore Witness is their first full-length album and second release overall. While they are incredibly heavy, it’s apparent very early on that this band is about much more than just being loud and slow. When more intense moments arrive, they are not just walls of sound. These moments are dense, but there’s a texture to everything, even the distortion used on the guitars seems as if you can feel it on your fingers. Members Gary Thibert (guitar, bass, and vocals) and Deniz Güvenç (drums, synths, piano, and vocals) feel like true sonic architects with how they take quiet/loud dynamics to an extreme and carefully craft every piece. The influence of ambient music is very apparent, not only in the quieter passages but in the careful attention to every layer at every moment.
You can pick a clip from just about anywhere on the album to sample They Grieve’s attention to detail, but my personal favorite is the song “Guided.” It’s the shortest song on the album, an instrumental with only a piano and an electric guitar, and it’s not heavy or loud. But the piano chords are built in such a way that they emphasize the overtones of the instrument. Other excellent examples can be found in “If Light Should Appear,” “Weakness,” and the title track. They all show how Thibert and Güvenç play with and utilize space in their compositions, allowing moments to linger and breathe. Sometimes drone or post-metal can be oppressive or claustrophobic in its pursuit of heaviness, but those are not words I would use to describe this album, even at its loudest.
Interestingly, To Which I Bore Witness is not an angry album despite its volume. Per the band’s intentions, this album is about sorrow, weakness, and weight. The first words you hear are “failure knows no bounds,” and other songs on the album go on to say things like “if light should appear, I will not know it to be mine,” and describe how a sorrow “became void absolute.” But even with such a dark tone, I can’t help but feel like Witness is beautiful in its own way.
While we’re on the subject, the lyrics on this album are very sparse with no more than a few sentences per song, but They Grieve make them count. They are screamed in a way that’s almost mournful, and they are truly poetic in their imagery. In fact, taken all together, the lyrics of the whole album read almost like a single work of poetry. And even though all of the songs fit together and have this unifying theme, they each stand as their own individual compositions with definite ends. It’s not a bad choice, but rather an interesting one, and I honestly think I prefer it on loud, droning albums like this. Even so, I do believe Witness should be experienced in its entirety.
They Grieve have crafted a fine collection of sludgy post-metal on To Which I Bore Witness. They have created an album that is heavy and loud without being oppressive. Their ambient influences shine through not only in quiet moments but also in their careful composition. If you like your metal slow and sad, be sure to give this one a spin.
They Grieve -To Which I Bore Witness releases on February 24, 2023, on Silent Pendulum Records. Find it here!
About the Author: Continuous Thunder can be found on Twitter
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that wakes us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry.