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Ssanahtes, Ssanahtes (Self-Released, 2015)

The four-song, 22-minute debut EP from Bordeaux/Paris, France-based Ssanahtes is a nice start, indeed. The quintet predominantly comes across as sludgy doom, but not in the "traditional" sense. I don't know that I'd classify their approach as "evil" or "foreboding," there are certainly no "stoner"-ish characteristics (granted they do thank "dealers, smoke buddies, and weed"), the compositions aren't drenched in feedback, etc. At the same time, there's a djent-like modernity to it (8-string guitars and such), but that's not taken too far, either—so it's not overly pristine, perfect, or sterilized.

The instrumental "Blue Druidess" opens with slow, sludgy, sustained chords; sparse percussion; and squirmy little electronic noise textures and effects mingling about—with some cool dissonant arpeggiated riffs and grinding chugs towards the end. "The Edge" builds upon a similar, fairly repetitious base (lots of slow 'n' doomy chords with faint atmospheric textures and string scraping), but the timing's not quite as straightforward. Plus, the fierce, scathing vocals are introduced; as is a fiery, chaotic guitar solo.

"Black Dragon" gets a bit more active with the riffing and really shines through, following a slightly faster pace that blends in killer post-hardcore textures and quick fits of tremolo picking amongst the gnashing low-end of the 8-string chugs—its guitar solo both slightly more melodic and technical, loaded with swirling hammer-on/pull-off bits. And "Words" is the only piece that, to me, starts to sound somewhat traditionally influenced in terms of the doom/sludge genre, employing southern-tinged Black Sabbath-infused runs within a consistently pounding type of tempo. Still, it later takes a turn with some off-the-wall acrobatics during the solo, as the rhythms get thicker and more pulsating.

The band states that the material was "recorded in our bedrooms with modest gear" (though the Axe-Fx II is fairly expensive, so I'm not sure that classifies as "modest," heh), and it sounds pretty damn good for "bedroom" material. It's heavy without being muddy, and since they don't go full-on djent-y there's some grit and texture to the distortion. The rhythm section could be rounder/fuller (it seems like their take on percussion is more minimalistic than most bands, which is kind of interesting), but I'll take it.

The lyrical content seems to consist of abstract explorations of personal hardships and inner turmoil:

Two lions in the same cage, two minds in the same body.
A kingdom can't have two kings, a land can't have two laws...

This is a strong debut with a lot of potential, so I'll certainly expect bigger and better from Ssanahtes in the future. While I must confess that I'm out of touch with the labels' recent output, I'm reminded of French imprints like Radar Swarm and Basement Apes Industries here, so fans of said rosters should pay special attention. The EP is available as a name your price download on Bandcamp in both dynamic and loud masters.

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