Review: Slug Shell – The Agony of Perseverance

Slugs Shell is one of those bands that is extremely well-known in your scene, plays a ton of shows, but doesn’t have anything on disc for years on end. Whatever the problem was for these Milwaukee-based groove-thrashers Slug Shell has unleashed the fury at last with their debut full length “The Agony of Perseverance.”

Opening with an introduction track, ‘Tenebrous Inquisition,’ we’re greeted the scraping of guitar strings and the humming of a bass guitar. It’s creepy and ominous, and gives off a strong black metal vibe. This all begins to change when the thunder of the drums kick in at the last seconds.

Picking up right where the intro left off, ‘What the Dark Conceals’ opens up with some melodic riffing before the snarls of guitarist and co-vocalist, Natalie Ricciardi, sounds the charge into unrelenting speed and technicality. Taking over command on vocals is the other half of Slug Shell’s guitar/vocals duo, Patrick Gunderson. Along with some truly heavy drum beats and an ever-present bass guitar, Gunderson’s deep growls and pained clean vocals drive this song very well and are complemented Ricciardi’s backing screams. Overall, this is one hell of a track. It’s wicked fast and highly technical. Least to say, it’ll have you craving more, especially the late track breakdowns.

The title track ‘The Agony of Perseverance’ kicks off in a similar fashion to the intro. It’s slow and atmospheric with white noise and Ricciardi’s melodic howlings sending chills down your spine. Of course, it’s not long before the speed and intensity kicks up with some seriously impressive riffing and rhythms. The bass has an almost alien quality to it, but what captures my ear the most is the highs and growls of Ricciardi over the melodic riffing of herself and Gunderson. The fact that she can seamlessly transition from vicious snarls to almost diva-like soaring highs has my respect. Of course, the vocals are just one part of the song. We touched on the riffs, bass, and drums, but not the guitar solos and that’s where this track really shines! The dueling leads are fantastic and have a thrash-meets-groove feel them. All in all, this song is already at the top of the list.

Opening slow like the previous track, but after a couple of notes from the guitar and that other worldly bass ‘Mid-Evil’ suddenly hits like a battery ram with the high pitched, banshee-like screams of Ricciardi and chugging riffs. Gunderson soon takes over with a clean vocals approach to a song covering the chaos of the dark ages. This is a battle song through and through. The riffs and heavy rhythms will have you banging your head and thrashing about while screamed and chanted lyrics like “Revolution!” and “The king is dead! We hold his head!” will have you screaming along. Without a doubt, this is going to be one of the band’s anthems for years to come and one of the best on the album. To make this song all the better, Slug Shell unleashes a face melting groove-inspired guitar solo that would make Dimebag Darrel proud.

The first 40 seconds of ‘Razing’ is a slow trudge through hell. The sound of rushing air as if you were in a cave is heard with the occasional tap of a bass string and a sudden but short riff. When those 40 seconds are though, however, Slug Shell returns with one of their most bone crushing songs yet. A bit more reserved that the others, this one takes a more brutal approach with occasional blast beats, chugging riffs, and snarly vocals. While not my personal favorite, this one is sure to be a hit with the death metal and hardcore crowd, for this is easily one of the heaviest tracks on the album.

Kicking off with a funky bass line followed by blistering drum beats and shreddy riffs, ‘Lighter Fluid’ is an arson anthem through and through. A fast attack on the senses, your head will be spinning by the speed and technicality found on this track. Gunderson’s wailing clean vocals, Ricciardi’s screeching howls, and their shared snarling growls keep this song intense until a surprisingly clean section about two minutes in. This melodic section cools the red hot metal that is this album but only for a few seconds. All of the speed and intensity of this band returns guns blazing until the final moments of the track.

‘Possessed’ is an apt title for this shred fest. Ricciardi’s high screams are front and center in this one, but the band is no less heavy. In fact, Ricciardi’s seemingly possessed shrieking vocals, especially her growls, only make the music heavier. This is one of those tracks that will have you rocking harder than you ever thought possible. The shreddy and groovy solos, the punishing double bass, and of course the unrelenting vocals drive this song straight to the end.

A very Slayer-esque track, ‘Systematic Destruction’ is a wicked fast riff assault backed up by strong rhythms and driving bass lines. Vocal duties are shared on this track and both singer brings a multitude of personalities. Gunderson’s clean vocals belting out lines like “Lies told straight to your face!” drive the chorus, while harsh vocals by both vocalists feed into the intensity. From the shreddy guitar solos and short bass solo to the punk-vibe found amidst the chaos, this track will have your head spinning while you question your place in modern society.

With ‘Sleepless’ Slug Shell’s formula begins to wear down a little. While a great tune, no doubt, it’s struggles to stand on its own for much of the five minutes. The wild riffing leading into a fade out was a nice touch, especially with the bass solo, but once the song kicks back into its groove it’s a little redundant. It doesn’t hit as hard as the others and doesn’t quite mesmerize me. Still, it’s a pretty killer tune but not my favorite. Of course, it does have its stand out points such as the bass line at the very end. That atmospheric finish was a nice touch.

So ‘Sleepless’ might have fallen a little flat for me, but that’s ok. The entire album has been well above average and it definitely recovers with ‘Wrath of Ra.’ This song is a showcase of everything this band is capable of. It has chunky riffs, powerful bass lines, strong and technically impressive beats, and a strong groove element. This one will have you moving and that’s a promise. This is the thrash metal equivalent of an Iron Maiden epic. Everything you’ve heard before on this album is cranked up to 11. About three minutes into this seven minute epic we’re suddenly greeted with an Egyptian style guitar section. This quirky part gives this song a lot of character and plays well with the god it pays tribute to. Without a doubt, however, the best part of this song is the explosive guitar solo about four minutes in.  This face melting solo takes the atmosphere and soul of this track and runs wild with it only to hand it off to a second, more groove-inspired soul. All in all, this instrumental will leave you mentally exhausted but satisfied.  After such a killer tune, I kind of feel bad for the album closer. That’s a hell of a thrill ride to live up to.

While I feel like ‘Wrath of Ra’ should have been the album closer, ‘The Gift That Keeps on Giving’ is heavy hitting enough to close this album on a high note. Honestly, this last hurrah takes everything that made this album kick and builds upon it. The groove metal vibe is stronger here than anywhere else and it hits the spot just right. The dominance of the melodic lead guitar truly makes this song shine, and is made better by the duality of Gunderson’s clean vocals and Ricciardi’s growl. And who wasn’t impressed by that guitar solo? The ability of Gunderson and Ricciardi to shred your face off while impressing you on almost every track is unquestionable. This was a strong finish, but it doesn’t quite stack up to the epic that preceded it.

Slug Shell fans have been waiting a long time for this album and it’s finally here. Mixing groove, thrash, and melodic death into a lethal concoction, Slug Shell hit this one out of the ballpark and over the freeway. There is honestly no such thing as a bad tune on this album, but some obviously shine brighter than others. Overall, this album kicks ass and takes names. If you dig any of the aforementioned styles then you need to buy this album as soon as possible. 9/10

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