Rongeur is French for rat or “gnawer”. So far so “Ratatouille”. It is also a really disturbing looking surgical instrument used to cut bone. Google images show something that would be perfectly in place on a Carcass album cover.
Rongeur the band do not offer cadaverous blast beats and medical tex . The Oslo trio prefer things slow and heavy rather than quick and bloody. Starting out in 2012 with a love for EyehateGod , Kyuss and Neurosis, Jostein (drums /Vox ) of Trollfest, Ken-Robert (Guitar/VOx) and Dag Ole (bass/Vox) have taken their influences, mashed them up and spewed forth two demo’s which have now been reissued together.
As the Blind Strive opens with “Lying Bastard Whore”, a splashy cymbal welcomes in a rumbling riff filled with bleak despair. Then the tempo is lifted and the vocals kick in. This truly sounds like a stoner/sludge hybrid cherry picking bits from both sub genres for good effect. The rumbling lurch of Sludge and post rock meeting the clean riffs and driving drums of the best the desert can offer.
Each member gets a crack at the mic which adds a lot of colour to the sonic palette. “Traitors” has a mix of metal roar, BM croaks, hardcore rasps and spoken passages. This may intimate a confusing and muddied sound but in fact offers just the opposite. The different vocals work like layers in a sludgy trifle. Delicious!
“Jon Hogg” has a spikey stoner feel , changing tempo and direction throughout. The trio like to come off the beat – quite unusual for bands from the swampier side of rock. They are unafraid of letting go of one groove and grabbing another one, which can be a little disconcerting for the listener but I soon learned to trust them and just roll with it. There are passages in “Traitors” which are pure EyeHateGod with some Mike Williams style vocals to match but there is enough of Rongeurs DNA to discount the “copyist” tag.
“Why Would You?” reminds me of “Don’t” from Dinosaur Jr’s Bug album. The dulled strings of the riff at the beginning and the tortured vocals take me back to J Mascis at his most bleak. The fact that there are spiralling guitar leads behind the maelstrom add to that vibe and finish this half of the collection on a real high. This is a track to play earsplittingly loud!
“The Catatrophist” was recorded a year before “As the Blind Strive” and the production is not as great and there is a different sound. Not chalk and cheese, mind you. We are not talking marching band here. There is less experimentation in the earlier demo. This is to be expected and shows how far the trio came on in the year in between recording sessions. The earlier material here sounds less confident and less polished but just as urgent and filled with passion.
“It’s a Given” has a much grungier, stoner rock sound with a Kyuss style riff penetrating the groove. “Le Rocher Aux Singes” is filled with drum crescendos and a bass so downtuned I think the strings must have been dragging on Dag’s boots.
The collection is brought to rest by “In Inceptum Finis Est” . It opens with a funky little psychedelic bass line which hinted at the avant-garde. Disappointingly, the theme was not kept going What follows is a competent sludge rock anthem which has merits but is the weakest song on the collection . The vocal here sounds too raw and low in the mix and gets lost. I decide to let the EP loop back to the latest recordings to delight in the bands progression.
Rongeur are not afraid to take music in different directions and if this collection shows the distance travelled in just three years I am looking forward to their first full length release. A bright light in the gloomy moss covered swamp.
(7.5/10 Matt Mason)