The stoner and sludge scene spreads its wings far and wide. Finnish riff lords, Demonic Death Judge have released their fourth long player, “The Trail”. Since their formation in 2009, they’ve had a steady stream of albums, EP’s and split releases along with plenty of gigs to build their profile.

An old Western movie sounding acoustic instrumental in the form of “Cougar Charmer” sets up a sense of loneliness and melancholy before morphing into The punishing “Filthy As Charged”. This is a punchy and dirty way to start proceedings with a sweet, head banging groove and heavy as thunder riffage. Weedeater styled vocals from Jaako Heinonen are full of impassioned howls and mixes up with shades of Orange Goblin styled rawness and makes for a meaty mix. One word could describe “Hardship”: fat. Pure chunky stoner metal that could make you break out into a sweat and want to bang head with other like-minded souls in a crammed venue (oh, remember the days…), this is pure joy and my standout track.

These guys have a strong sense of groove. The vocals have a killer edge and the riffs are shoved deep down into the dirt. The occasional foot off the accelerator sets up salvo after salvo of stoner sludge goodness that in parts reminds me of local band Desert Storm. They never stray too far from their course yet there’s nothing that feels expectant or complacent here. Occasional wanderings into psychedelia emerge on tracks like “Shapeshifting Serpents” while Hawkwind inspired space rock trippiness shines through on “Fountain Of Acid”. Indeed, it’s side two where the band tend to explore a little more and add some flourishes that give the album its sheen. “Cougar Charmer (Reprise)” with its acoustic guitar and an edgy, off kilter sound and harmonica has a soulful edge. You can literally feel the loneliness and smell the dust in another deserted place in another time. The title track is an oozy, lurching monster with small progressive twists that give it an atmospheric quality before the album closes on a more familiar note with “We Have To Kill” and it’s rubbery riff and sleazy harmonica.

Coming in at around 48 minutes there is nothing in the way of filler here. Sometimes hypnotic in its brutality, it makes me yearn for a live gig to feel the full force of some of these songs…strange days we live in. Nothing ground-breaking so much but it’s done very well. Fans of the genre will lap this up.

(7.5/10 Johnny Zed)