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You’d be stretching a point to call North Carolina sludge metal trio Weedeater ‘famous’, but you could nevertheless make a sound argument for ‘infamous’ or ‘notorious’. That is to say, mention of their name – to a certain kind of entrenched metalhead, at any rate – is likely to prompt recollection of certain factoids and/or isolated incidents. Ones which have little or nothing to do with what their music sounds like. Weedeater frontman Dixie Dave Collins shot one of his toes off by accident last year; Weedeater frontman Dixie Dave Collins’ rider at each show includes a plastic bucket, often required as his sternum-churning vocal style is liable to make him sick; Weedeater frontman Dixie Dave Collins is a recovering heroin addict who, as the title of this album might suggest once the pun hits you, isn’t exactly sanctimonious about it. Even this week, the one before the fourth Weedeater album is released, their US press company have emailed about the band having to cancel some homeland dates because guitarist Dave Shepherd broke his hand. The tone of the prose was ‘amused but weary’.
The start of the second paragraph is of course the bit where I tell you that although, if you’re not really paying attention, Weedeater might carry a frivolous or novelty factor, this isn’t really the case at all. Jason... The Dragon, like the three albums preceding it, takes the discipline of sun-baked, night-frozen downtuned pummel extremely seriously. The bands who represent their most evident inspirations – Eyehategod, Grief, Iron Monkey – all flirted with near-parodic destructiveness in their time, too, and still stand as three of the tallest pillars of this subgenre. (We could reasonably add the recently reformed Buzzov.en to this list, while noting that Collins is their ex-bassist; their stories of jacking up in the men’s room at Roadrunner, their label, are proper gather-round-kiddies stuff, as you might imagine.)
All those bands are all either defunct or not exactly guaranteed to make another record. You could posit that Weedeater albums serve as a stopgap, in this respect, and it wouldn’t be totally untrue, but it’d also be selling them rudely short. This album isn’t going to be a gamechanger for the sludge genre, but ‘progress’ is a mis-sewn fit for something this base and primal. Ten songs – one is a drum solo lasting a minute – in just over half an hour, Jason... The Dragon is in pretty much the same sonic flophouse as God Luck And Good Speed (again, you might see what they did there). Maybe the average pace might be a little more energetic, with ‘Mancoon’ attaining a doomy gallop and ‘Homecoming’ the only thing here which could properly be called stoner rock. Collins’ vocals might have slightly improved, by which we mean deteriorated, by which we mean he sounds more than ever like he’s had his larynx cleaned with an asbestos toilet brush. Steve Albini, at the controls for the previous album, engineers this one to a tee also, in case any nitwit still thinks he’s only capable of recording bone-dry math-rock.
While God Luck…’s album track ‘Alone’, provided its single moment of country downhome-ity, there are two on here: still maybe a bit more tokenistic than when Skynyrd did it, but also clearly borne out of an actual love of country music. ‘Whiskey Creek’, an instrumental with what sounds like a running shower in the background, closes the album. ‘Palms And Opium’, meanwhile, is oddball and not at all anthemic, but transmits the sweaty itch of chemical imbalance with learned ability: “And the breeze, and the sun, goddamn what have I done, and the pain it makes me numb.” As a lyricist, Collins’ steez is essentially to gurgle out half-formed slogans, insults and aphorisms one after another; while it lacks the free-association headfuckery of Eyehategod’s Mike Williams, it works rather well. A highlight of sorts comes on the title track, where he calls someone “ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag”, a term which for some reason I’d long associated with northern England.
If you check for sludge metal, this album ought to tick most of the standard boxes. It almost certainly wouldn’t have been harmed by another ten minutes’ worth of material – at least – but what is here creaks with the weight of monster riffs and actual individual personality. One that might have been rendered bitter and misanthropic by years of ravage, but serves as a mask for a bunch of utterly decent punky metal dudes.