The face of heavy metal has changed many times in the last two decades, and San Francisco’s Slough Feg has changed nearly as many times over the years, with only helmsman Michael Scalzi remaining from the band’s original lineup. And yet Slough Feg (nee the Lord Weird Slough Feg) continues its battle against “modern metal” unabated, a war fought by ignoring every style of metal that has arisen since well before the band formed in 1990.
It’s no use accusing Slough Feg of anachronism, especially when the band’s sixth LP, Harldworlder, embraces the hard rock of the late ’70s and early ’80s like it was still cutting edge. The album looks backward with no apologies, supping of Thin Lizzy essence on “Tiger! Tiger!” and “Galactic Nomad,” racing through vintage new wave of British heavy-metal riffs on “Insomnia” on “Poisoned Treasures,” even digging deep into the dustbin for covers by obscure proto-metal acts Horselips and Manilla Road. There isn’t a single blastbeat or death growl to speak of — just bruising guitar solos, hard-hitting drums and bucketloads of melody.
In a metal moment where speed and brutality are ends in themselves, putting out an album of irony-free traditional hard rock is pretty ballsy. The Celtic folk-metal jigs “The Sea Wolf” and “The Spoils” just increase the likelihood of failure. But Scalzi’s gruff tenor soars through high-flying melodies without a hint of schlock, and even when his lyrics draw on tried-and-true mythology and fantasy sources, they avoid the artifice of your average power-metal band. Hardworlder is about as un-hip and un-contemporary as metal gets, and for once, that’s a good thing.