The fact that I don't use drugs myself doesn't prevent me from listening to music that is named after them. This is an article about sludge and stoner metal.
To understand these genres, we first have to take a look at their origins. Sludge and stoner are a fusion of doom metal and hardcore punk with some other influences like grunge on the side of sludge and psychedelic rock on the side of stoner. I wrote a whole article about doom metal recently so I'm not going to discuss it further here, although you should note that I'm referring to traditional heavy/doom metal, especially bands like Black Sabbath, Saint Vitus and Trouble have had a huge influence on sludge and stoner subgenres.
Probably the greatest non-metal influence on these genres, especially sludge, is hardcore punk. The band that is often called the godfather of hardcore punk is Black Flag. This band released its debut album in 1981 and has been a great influence to the whole doom metal genre. While stoner is more influenced by psychedelic rock, acid rock and blues, it still has a clear hardcore influence. Sludge on the other hand is greatly influenced by it and at some points almost sounds like a direct fusion of doom and hardcore. Nevertheless, Black Flag is the root of the whole genre, and one of the most influential bands for the punk-influenced metal scene. Of course other hardcore bands like Dead Kennedys, Fear, The Germs and Circle Jerks have had their own influence on these music styles.
In the year 1986, Melvins released their first album. The album, "Gluey Porch Treatments" is often labeled the first sludge metal record to exist. Melvins created the style of metal that included mid-tempo riffs, hardcore influence and relaxed yet subconsciously tense atmosphere. And crazy haircuts. Melvins has since experimented with a range of different music styles and is active still today, although it can be considered a one-man band as King Buzzo is the only founding member left.
Five years after Melvins' debut another legendary sludge band released their debut album. Crowbar is often called the most well-known sludge metal band, and is naturally one of the most influential in the genre. Crowbar is also still relevant today, although like Melvins only has only one founding member left. Crowbar's members have since then collaborated with projects like Down, a stoner metal supergroup.
A year after Crowbar's debut, in 1992, a band known as Eyehategod released their first record, introducing a more hardcore-oriented approach while still being a classic sludge metal band. Eyehategod has had a more stable lineup than the other pioneers, and although they haven't released an album since the year 2000 they are still active.
Two years after this Acid Bath released their debut and the first of their two albums. This was a confusing record as it was actually quite calm and even beautiful at points, which is very unusual for traditional sludge bands. To balance that out the album has some outright crazy shit happening, in the end it's a great record for both modern and traditional sludge fans.
Other important bands in the genre are the east coast sludge bands known from their slower approach on the music. The most influential of these bands are Grief, 16 and Buzzoven. Although the Louisiana scene is kept as the pioneers of sludge, these bands gave their own influence to the genre nevertheless.
Backtracking a few years, we find ourselves at the year 1988 and the debut of Neurosis. Although at this point Neurosis was playing hardcore punk, they later developed their sound to a progressive, more atmospheric style of sludge. "Through Silver In Blood", released in 1996, is one of the most important albums in this more modern and progressed style of sludge.
Some bands followed in the footsteps of this progressive sludge metal, and in the year 2000 ISIS released their debut album. ISIS is known from their extremely atmospheric approach in the style, and they are also pioneers in a genre known as post-metal. ISIS has already split up, although the reason for this split was that they thought that they'd already reached all their goals as musicians, and that it was time to quit with honor.
A year after their debut Cult Of Luna released their first record. Cult Of Luna started as a traditional sludge band, but has ever since added progressive and post rock elements to their music. They are still one of the most important bands in modern sludge, and are still going on strong, even though their newest record is almost pure post-metal.
But we cannot speak of modern sludge metal without speaking of Mastodon. These progressive sludge giants released their debut album in 2002, and although didn't catch mainstream success instantly, their 2004 record, "Leviathan", is one of the most important and legendary albums in the progressive sludge metal scene. They have since experimented with progressive influences even further which has displeased some fans, but if this experimentation spawns more albums like "Crack The Skye" it's fine with me.
But when we again go back to the year 1988, we have another genre raising its head. Soundgarden released their first album, "Ultramega OK" which is widely recognized as the first record in the stoner subgenre. Although Soundgarden is better known as a grunge band, they are still kept as the forefathers of stoner rock and metal.
Three years after this, Kyuss released their debut. Kyuss is recognized as possibly the most important band in the genre of stoner rock, and they have been a huge influence on both of rock and metal bands that follow them. Kyuss has gone through a number of lineup and name changes, but it's best know by the name Kyuss and Sons Of Kyuss.
In the same year as Kyuss' debut, Cathedral released their first record. As Soundgarden and Kyuss were a bit more rock-oriented, Cathedral had a greater doom metal influence. They are considered the forefathers of stoner metal, as they brought the heavy metal influence in the genre.
Still in the year 1991, we have ourselves the first album of a revered stoner metal band. Sleep is one of the most important bands in the stoner genre, and is possibly the most important pioneer in stoner metal. They also had the lyrics that stoner is known of: Weed and tripping. Its music made by tripping people to be listened to by tripping people. Fortunately this is not mandatory for the fans.
Although not a debut album, "Manic Frustration" by Trouble, released in 1992, is an important psychedelic metal record. Trouble started as a pure doom metal band, but later developed in the direction of stoner. They are still an important band in both genres, being one of the first bands in both styles.
A few years after this, in 1995, Electric Wizard released their debut. They had a more doomy approach to their music, with lyrics shifting from life and drugs to more occult subjects. Not that they didn't have songs about drugs. Electric Wizard is one of the most well known stoner metal bands, and they are still going today.
Two years after this, Orange Goblin released their debut. They were quite a confusing band, as they had lyrics ranging from relationships to space and time travel. Orange Goblin, alongside with Sleep and Electric Wizard form the core of stoner doom, and have influenced many new bands to try their hallucinated wings with this genre.
I'd still like to talk about a band called High On Fire. Their debut was released in 2000, and they introduced a more aggressive sound to stoner, having more influence from heavier metal bands. The reason I brought this up is that High On Fire also happens to be the reason the band Mastodon was born, as the band members met at a High On Fire show and were big fans of the music. Just a link between stoner and sludge metal I thought I'd share.
What about my own opinion on sludge? Progressive sludge metal is probably tied in the first place of my favorite genres along with progressive death metal. It's music both primitive and aggressive and sophisticated and artistic. Need something aggressive? Early sludge metal. Something relaxing and slow? Stoner metal. Something complex and unique? Progressive sludge. Something less extreme but energetic? Stoner rock. It's really a diverse genre and everyone will find something to like in it.
And here in the end I'll just throw a few recommendations. I already recommended doom in the last article and since this is an article about metal I won't touch hardcore any further. And my job is not to list every single band out there; I'll recommend the essentials and my own favorites. (Band-album/album)
Melvins "Houdini"/"The Stag"/"Bullhead"
Crowbar "Odd Fellows Rest"/"Crowbar"/S"Ever The Wicked Hand"
Eyehategod "Take As Needed For Pain"/"Dopesick"
Acid Bath "When The Kite String Pops"/"Paegan Terrorism Tactics"
16 "Curves That Kick"
Corrosion Of Conformity "Blind"/"Wiseblood"
Neurosis "Through Silver In Blood"/"Times Of Grace"
ISIS "Panopticon"/"Oceanic"/"The Wavering Radiant"
Cult Of Luna "Somewhere Along The Highway"/"Salvation"/"The Beyond"
Mastodon "Leviathan"/"Blood Mountain"
Pelican "The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw"/"Australasia"
Baroness "Blue Record"
The Ocean "Precambrian"
Mouth Of The Architect "The Ties That Bind"
Giant Squid "The Ichthyologist"
Soundgarden "Ultramega OK"
Kyuss - "Blues For The Red Sun"/"Welcome To The Sky Valley"
Sleep "Sleep's Holy Mountain"/"Dopesmoke"
Electric Wizard "Come My Fanatics..."/"Dopethrone"
Orange Goblin "Healing Through Fire"/"Time Travelling Blues"
Cathedral "Forest Of Equilibrium"/"The Ethereal Mirror"
High On Fire "Surrounded By Thieves"/"Blessed Black Wings"
Trouble "Manic Frustration"
Red Fang "Murder The Mountains"
The Sword "Gods Of The Earth"
ASG "Feeling Good Is Good Enough"
Spiritual Beggars - "Demons"
I am well aware that I am probably missing some very important bands, and I do hope that people will be so kind and let me know about them in the comments.
Post Scriptum Thing: I had a load of fun with this. Thanks to the good criticism I received from the last article I had the inspiration to write this, and I thank everyone who supported the previous column even with its problems. I found a ton of new music to listen and I hope that I managed to help others in a similar way. Especially with a genre as unknown as sludge or stoner it's important to have solid recommendations, and I hope I succeeded in doing that.