Barren Heir - Died Down (Self-released)

Atmospheric sludge is hard to do well—or at least hard to keep sounding fresh. Too many bands either descend into repetitive, halcyon ambience to prop up textbook riffs, or in their endless repetition, lose sight of the heaviness's original appeal. The subgenre's stalwarts are so established that it's a constant challenge to develop upon this lineage, and
Barren Heir aren't reinventing the wheel on Died Down. But standing on the shoulders of Aaron Turner's post-Isis work, they make an admirable case for their own importance in an already oversaturated genre.

Crucially, Barren Heir keep sludge’s hardcore roots well in sight. Whilst Neurosis thrive in psychic ritual and Amenra prioritise catharsis above all, Died Down's weight is intensely physical and muscular. Tracks like “Proximity Itch” and “Some of its Parts” have the air of a relentless, unstoppable hunter, and none of this energy is sacrificed when things take a turn towards the atmospheric in the latter half of the record. Foregoing a more overt psychedelic/space rock sound à la Year Of No Light, delays and reverbs are kept minimal and tasteful, making guitar leads sound as if they're exploding into white-hot sonic supernovas. Penultimate track “Take Away” is a masterclass in marrying these two dimensions, being simultaneously one of the most expansive tracks and one of the most physically impactful. The album rounds off with a short Godspeed You! Black Emperor-esque closer, the whole experience proving that post-metal doesn't need to be epic in duration to leave listeners impressed with its scope. Should they choose to emphasise what makes them stand out in their crowded field, Barren Heir could be the second wind atmosludge needs.