|Cultural origins||Mid-late 1980s Washington, U.S.|
Sludge metal (also known as sludge or sludge doom) is an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music that originated through combining elements of doom metal and hardcore punk. It is typically harsh and abrasive, often featuring shouted vocals, heavily distorted instruments, and sharply contrasting tempos. The Melvins from the US state of Washington produced the first sludge metal albums in the mid-late 1980s. Sludge as a distinct genre emerged after 1990 through the work of Louisiana bands such as Eyehategod, Crowbar, and Acid Bath, who generally borrowed from southern rock.
The key characteristics of both sludge and doom metal are a slow tempo combined with down-tuned, heavily distorted guitars to deliver an extremely heavy feel. It can be hard to tell the difference between doom, stoner, and sludge metal because of the similarities between the three genres. Sludge metal is distinguished primarily by its use of elements of hardcore punk, such as bursts of faster-paced material, and its avoidance of the psychedelic rock elements that distinguish stoner metal. Additionally, sludge metal incorporates feedback and noise elements from industrial bands like SPK, Throbbing Gristle, and Swans.
Sludge metal is also distinguishable from doom metal by its themes and tone. Doomed to Fail author J. J. Anselmi writes that sludge is more likely to explore real-world themes like poverty and addiction, as opposed to the "epic battle between good and evil" often portrayed in doom metal lyrics. "Sludge is typically more grounded, delving into life's negativity while laughing at its absurdity", Anselmi writes. Eyehategod vocalist Mike IX Williams says the term sludge relates to "the slowness, the dirtiness, the filth, and general feel of decadence the tunes convey".
Sludge metal is regarded as particularly challenging for drummers to play because they must be able to lead the band through the slow parts of a piece with an accurate time feel, which is much harder to achieve than when playing faster pieces.
Initially, the Melvins played hardcore punk, but, according to Krist Novoselic (later the bassist of Nirvana), frontman Buzz Osborne was inspired to change directions after seeing the hardcore punk band Black Flag during their 1984 tour. By the time Black Flag had moved away from their faster hardcore punk roots and were playing slower, sludgier, more Black Sabbath-inspired music, as heard on their album My War. According to Novoselic, Osbourne began writing "slow and heavy riffs" to form a dirge-like music that was the beginning of both sludge metal and northwest grunge. Another band that combined punk with the heaviness of Black Sabbath was Flipper, who also influenced Melvins and other early sludge bands like Eyehategod.
The Melvins' Six Songs (1986) and Gluey Porch Treatments (1987) are regarded as the first post-punk sludge albums. The remnants of hardcore punk mixed into the songs of Gluey Porch Treatments provides one of the key differences that distinguish sludge from doom metal. According to Pantera and Down vocalist Phil Anselmo: "Back in those days, everything in the underground was fast, fast, fast. It was the rule of the day...But when the Melvins came out with their first record, Gluey Porch Treatments, it really broke the mold, especially in New Orleans. People began to appreciate playing slower."
The early development of grunge and sludge metal were closely linked. Nirvana's single "Love Buzz/Big Cheese" (1988) was described by their record label Sub Pop as "heavy pop sludge". The Seattle music author and journalist Gillian G. Gaar writes that Nirvana's debut studio album Bleach "does have its share – some would say more than its share – of dirty sludge". Examples of crossover tracks between sludge and grunge include Soundgarden's "Slaves & Bulldozers" (1991) and Alice in Chains' "Sludge Factory" (1995). The American music author and journalist Michael Azerrad described the short-lived Seattle band Blood Circus (1988) as a sludge metal band, with rock journalist Ned Raggett describing the band's music as "rough and ready, sludgy guitar rock with a bad attitude".
In an article describing the sound of The Melvins, the The New York Times wrote: "The shorthand term for the kind of rock descending from early Black Sabbath and late Black Flag is sludge, because it's so slow and dense." Metal Hammer cited Black Sabbath's "downcast metal", Black Flag's "tortured hardcore", and the "sub/dom grind of early Swans" as influences on the genre.
Other key bands in the development of sludge metal include Acid Bath, Buzzoven, Corrupted, Crowbar, Down, Eyehategod, and Grief. By the late 1990s, small sludge scenes could be found across many countries.
By the early 2000s, sludge metal had formed cross-over works with stoner metal, such as Bongzilla's "Gateway" and High on Fire's "The Yeti".
Eyehategod formed in Harvey, Louisiana, in 1988 and is sometimes credited with originating a new style sometimes referred to as "New Orleans hardcore-edged sludge" or "sludgecore",  though some see sludgecore as a movement that emerged in New Orleans with no single originator. Other bands regarded as sludgecore include Acid Bath, Crowbar, Eyehategod, and Soilent Green.
Like sludge metal, sludgecore combines sludge metal with hardcore punk, and possesses a slow pace, a low guitar tuning, a grinding dirge-like feel. some faster tempo songs or passages, as heard on Eyehategod's debut album In the Name of Suffering The guitars (electric guitar and bass guitar) are often played with large amounts of feedback. Vocals are usually shouted or screamed. Some sludgecore bands are influenced by Southern rock.
Lyrics by sludgecore bands like Crowbar tend to be bleak in nature. Buzzoven's lyrics concern drug abuse, and Acid Bath's concern rape, abortion, death, and self-loathing.
Punk and metal may have gotten together to create sludge, but they were an infertile couple. Someone else had to provide the turkey baster that would lead to the resulting offspring of the clash of seemingly disparate genres, one that even if it shouldn't be labeled can still be seen as a distinct, unique musical entity. 'Honestly in the beginning it was like, old Swans, SPK. That's where we got the feedback and shit and the noise,' explains EyeHateGod drummer Joey LaCaze on said baster. 'The industrial side, the sampling, like the first album and all the Manson shit we did on Take As Needed for Pain,' continues Mike IX Williams, 'that was like Throbbing Gristle influence you know.'Melvins in particular: "In conversation: Rock and roll prospectors The Melvins talk about their latest treasure". RIFF Magazine. August 14, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
RIFF: We've heard about your rock influences, where does the experimental noise come from? King Buzzo: Throbbing Gristle, mostly. Maybe a little of SPK, Flipper.
It was one of the first albums to bring the heaviness of Black Sabbath into punk, and along with Black Flag's My War, slowed punk's breakneck speed and paved the way for grunge.Influence on The Melvins and sludge in general: "Sludge Special". Terrorizer. No. 187. August 2009. p. 44. ISSN 1350-6978.
From this reaction, sludge was born. Enter Flipper and 'Generic Album Flipper' and Black Flag's 'My War'."Sludge Special". Terrorizer. No. 187. August 2009. p. 44. ISSN 1350-6978.
I was far more influenced by bands like Black Flag than Black Sabbath. Believe it or not. Black Flag and Flipper."How Melvins Invented Sludge: "Ugly Spawn of Punk and Metal"". Revolver. October 31, 2019. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
Melvins can't be credited as the genre's sole inventor, however. San Francisco's Flipper crawled ashore in 1979. The group's feedback-drenched groove-punk had more in common with the abused dolphins who played Flipper on the TV show than the chipper version of the creature audiences loved."The Quietus | Features | Baker's Dozen | The Weirder The Better: Buzz Osborne Of Melvins' 13 Favourite Records". The Quietus. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
They were a massive influence on us.Influence on Eyehategod: "Psychopath Blues: Mike IX Williams Feeds Back - ANTIGRAVITY Magazine". November 21, 2014. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
You had bands like Flipper and Kilslug from Boston who were real slow; and of course we were influenced by metal bands of the time like St. Vitus, Confessor, and Carnivore— bands that had slow, heavy parts in their sets. And of course the Melvins, which we'll never deny as an influence.Rebecca. "Vomitose: EYEHATEGOD INTERVIEW - VOMITOSE issue 3 2008". Vomitose. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
I personally was more influenced by bands like Kilslug, Flipper, S.P.K., Laughing Hyenas, Whitehouse, Joy Division.Kelly, Sean. "30 years of Eyehategod". Connect Savannah. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
Before us, there was Flipper and before that Kilslug.Influence on other sludge metal groups (Neurosis and Sourvein): "Sludge Special". Terrorizer. No. 187. August 2009. p. 51. ISSN 1350-6978.
The first thing I would really say fits the bill is Flipper. Flipper were kind of the cornerstone for just super.. I don't know, tempo-wise, lyrical-wise.Williams, Rhys (April 6, 2016). "Interview: Troy "T-Roy" Medlin (Sourvein)". Invisible Oranges - The Metal Blog. Retrieved July 2, 2023.
I mean, we joined into that sound too after starting out, and we had similar influences to Eyehategod and two or three other bands here and there. We definitely all liked late-era Black Flag, Melvins, Saint Vitus, Amebix, Flipper, stuff like that.