Toadliquor- Back In The Hole (Album Review)

March 13, 2024


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The last few years have brought about quite a few reunions, both expected and unexpected.  Some of the unexpected ones have been bands that were dormant for some time, making it all the more impressive when they recapture the intensity and harshness of their earlier days.  Khanate did it last year with an album that was just as tense and ugly as the rest of their discography, and this year Toadliquor rejoins the fray with some tortured sludge/doom.  Despite some of their material coming out on Southern Lord, Toadliquor has snuck under the radar a bit thanks to a small discography and limited information on who’s actually behind the music, but those that have discovered their 1993 debut or 2003 compilation were likely drawn in by the heavy grooves and over the top vocals.  This year’s Back In The Hole makes it feel like they never left despite the almost thirty year gap between full lengths, and while the vocals are just slightly less unhinged they still prove to be more abrasive than most.

One of the biggest differences between Back In The Hole and the rest of Toadliquor’s discography is the tempo, as the material tends to be a bit faster and offers even more grimy, heavy grooves.  You do still get some slower breaks where it feels like the band is trying to slow things down to a crawl but compared to the almost drone-like nature of much of their 90’s output the pacing feels downright brisk and there is definitely a bit more emphasis on the riffs themselves.  That’s not a bad thing though, as while you still get plenty of the weight and barbed wire edges to the instrumentation, Toadliquor varies things up a bit more than the average band playing sludge or doom.  “Recained” makes an immediate impression with its bluesy swagger around the minute and a half mark as well as the transition into moodier electronics, and “Entry Level Position” goes for a similar approach but makes the electronic elements even more nightmarish.  Even the more straightforward groove focused tracks shake up the formula each time, and there’s quite a bit of substance to what the band is doing.  Admittedly the electronics and other pivots into other instrumental styles isn’t new territory for Toadliquor, but these elements have been naturally expanded upon and leave an even greater impression this time around.  The noise level has been toned down a bit as well and there’s a bit of additional clarity which makes sense given the three-decade gap between recordings, but the weight of each instrument still makes Back In The Hole hit hard.

Toadliquor has a bit of a reputation for just how over the top the vocals were on their debut, and while they’re a little toned down here the performance still has a lot to unpack.  Opener “First Crush” lets some feedback and sparser drumming lead things off before Rex comes barging in with a tortured wail that feels like it can tear right through your speakers.  Sometimes it sounds like you’re getting the stream of consciousness of one of the most tortured souls out there, and it makes sense that the band has once again put the vocals slightly behind the instrumentals in the mix as they’d overwhelm everything if they were too prominent.  Some of the most distorted moments appear during the sparser periods of electronics, as Rex gets lower and more inhuman sounding on “Recained”.  Each verse is spaced out well, and while you’re always anticipating when those wails and screams will come exploding back into the songs that anticipation doesn’t take away from just how abrasive every minute is.

This type of sludge isn’t for everyone, but if you like some grimy, abrasive grooves alongside some ear-piercing vocals Toadliquor is a must listen in 2024.  Despite being gone for so long, they’ve picked up right where they left off and expanded upon some of the additional electronics and other interludes that helped to differentiate their take on the genre.  I can’t say that this band was one I ever expected anything new from, and who knows if we’ll get more after this album, but it’s another wild ride that I’ll be getting some real mileage out of.  Back In The Hole is available from Southern Lord Recordings.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg