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Tel : Lowlife

Tel's full-length debut is a commanding and mature venture into adventurous and eclectic Sludge/Doom.

From Tel's first release, a demo forged back in 2017, one could begin to smell the potential. A (good) demo sometimes does just that. Offers a glimpse of greater things to come. A single track in the shape of 'Daybreak' followed a couple of months later and added more scope to the groove-laden Sludge of the initial release. The band play an intriguing and eclectic brand of Doomy Sludge with twists and turns at every corner. The music pulsing, and alive one minute. Gloomy and ethereal the next. Along with Dante DuVall's approach to ploughing your own vocal furrow, initial overall impressions reminded me what I liked so much on hearing Acid Bath for the first time all those years ago. A melting pot of styles blended together in a Sludgy crucible. So far, so good. But while these were clearly passable efforts, they were also somewhat unfinished sounding, homemade recordings. Something, or someone was needed to give the whole deck a good shuffle and produce a winning hand.

Well, whatever it was, it worked. 'Lowlife' is the sound of a band stepping up to the plate and delivering a confident, mature sounding debut album, fullfilling the promise of those earlier recordings both in production, and also in the bands delivery. It's an excellent example of getting it right first time, but then again producer Garrett Morris and engineer Dan Randall have Sludge/Doom resumes as long as your arm, so go figure. The overall tone is deep and thick and the snare and percussion cut through the grubby atmosphere with a touch owing as much to Bill Ward as it does to Jason Roeder. While we're mentioning Sabbath, let's not leave out the upbeat jam at the end of 'Ouroboros' which wouldn't have sounded too out of place on 'Sabotage', and the rambling 'double-guitar' solos littered about the place that positively reek of Tony Iommi.

Elsewhere it's not only the instrumentation that has risen to the challenge. The vocals are in a slightly different place too. Gone is the nervy trepidation heard in the demo recordings and in it's place come unruffled, otherworldly melodies as well as a confident , guttural growl you can almost sing along to. But it is in the softer delivery where things really shine through. Delivered in the style of an Occult-themed lounge crooner with a certain amount of psychedelic menace, DuVall's vocal lines get into the head and stay there, musing ethereally away long after the music stops. Perhaps most importantly, there is a touch of idiosyncratic eccentricity to the cleaner voice that sets it apart from many other bands of this style. Throw in a fierce bark that unleashes itself from time to time too, as the second half of 'Strangers' will confirm, and it all blends together rather well.

As well as some striking dynamics within the music, what also raises the eyebrows is the conviction and self-belief that comes pouring through the speakers. It's more than backed up by the structure, attention to detail and songwriting in general. 'Red-Level' and 'Choke' are huge great slabs of dirty sounding Rock that crystalise the band's sound. To my ears they're straddling the borders of Sludge, Doom, and Stoner with a hint of Post-Metal under a foreboding umbrella of gloom-laden atmosphere. 'Choke' and 'Strangers' perhaps too, are the standout examples of how the band weave together the more extreme ends of these genres with an effortless competence as delicate, bluesy meanderings give way to rough and commanding jams.

Tel's debut album is pretty much all it could be really. Difficult to pigeonhole in its entirety, the borders between the genres blurring as they do sufficiently enough to keep the listener guessing as the music shuffles subtly between it's chosen influences. I would say Tel are a touch more adventurous musically than a few of their more infamous contemporaries. Sure enough the album has its reference points, but given the performances of each bandmember, 'Lowlife' can most certainly hold its head up high as its own peculiar sounding beast. Tel, it appears, are not here to simply make up the numbers. Room for improvement? Not a whole lot really. Turn it up....

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Reviewer's rating: 9/10


Tracklist :
1. Ouroboros
2. Submerged
3. Red Level
4. Choke
5. Strangers

Duration : Approx. 32 minutes

Visit the Tel bandpage.

Reviewed on 2019-06-30 by Matt Halsey
Aesthetic Death
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