Boatman’s Toll – The Fat is in the Fire

3 min read

Band: Boatman’s Toll
Title: The Fat is in the Fire
Label: Seeing Red Records
Release Date: 19 July 2019
Country: USA
Format Reviewed: Digital promo

Originally self-released back in 2017, Chicago five piece BOATMAN’S TOLL – having now signed to Seeing Red Records – will see their debut album rereleased next month with a couple of extra tracks bolted on for good measure. The Fat is in the Fire is driven by a blend of sludge and black metal styles, with hints of other influences (am I imagining a couple of Tool references here and there in the guitars?). The drums rarely let up from a hammering, double bass driven charge, with chugging guitar riffs and melodic lines that suggest a range of influences. They hint at black metal without ever really being so demented. Maybe it’s the sludge influence that has the band generally locked into a groove – although it’s a fairly up-tempo and thrashy groove, like on the opening two tracks “Slumber No More” and “Corporate Indentured Servitude” (the later having the kind of title that would seem to fit a NAPALM DEATH record). The gruff, roaring vocals from Barry Kotarba remind me more than anything of MASTODON.

On first listen “Leviathan” era MASTODON was the biggest reference point I heard in the music as a whole. I’m not a great fan of Mastodon’s sound – somehow their big, barrelling heaviness doesn’t really connect with me – and similarly here I felt (and still feel) that while tracks like “Becoming the Flood” and “In the Falling Away” are full of “heavy” elements (battering, flourishing drums, up-tempo riffing and gut ripping vocals) the music somehow lacks the menace or sense of danger that you find with a lot of old school death metal for example. You definitely couldn’t accuse the band of lacking energy, the music charges along with barely a pause for much of the album. As a matter of fact it’s actually where the band chooses to break up the near constant charge that I find some of the most interesting points on the album. Standout track “Torn” starts with the familiar double bass driven attack, but it soon shifts gears and works through a series of cool riffs, with death and black metal elements, some cool haunting guitar wails and melodic twists and turns that surprise and delight. The guitars sound more demented in places and it’s here where the band for the first time sounds dangerous and less comic as they do on tracks like “Cat Food”.

On the original release the title track closes the album. For the rerelease meanwhile there are two more tracks to follow, the interesting, tempo changing “Fossils” and a very satisfying cover of ACID BATH’s The Blue, where Barry does a very convincing impression of Dax Riggs. With the title track’s brooding intro (reminiscent of 10,000 Days era TOOL) genuinely savage riffing and cool stop/start rhythms intertwining with the vocals, these last three tracks have the album finishing on a high. It’s these final 15minutes and the great mid album “Torn” that show to me the true potential of the band. For sure, there are no duds on this album and the band sprinkles interesting ideas through the album, but as a full near-60min listening experience, the tempo and tone gets a bit repetitive. Equally, I’m repeatedly reminded of classic death metal like MORBID ANGEL, but with the band rarely displaying that same level of demented fury it continually acts as a reminder that while being an enjoyable, heavy, sludge/ death metal blend, this could be more. 7/10 Tom


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