by R.S. Frost
In 2012 Matt Moss and Kev Pearson teamed up after having both been involved in grindcore outfit TOWER OF WANKERS. They started putting together material that straddled blackened death and sludge metal, which would eventually become known as SLUGDGE.
Matt’s lyrical approach to this new project would become the band’s calling card. Slugdge is a band conceptually based around inter-galactic malacology; sentient slugs hell-bent on world domination. What at first glance comes across as a humorous gimmick takes on a very different ethos if one chooses to look deeper.
Yes, we have Lord Mollusca waging war in the name of the Almighty. We have armies of slugs engaging across desolate sci-fi landscapes (‘Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms’, 2015). We have numerous references to the works of H.P Lovecraft (‘Gastronomicon’, 2014). We have some of the wittiest re-workings of classic metal albums and track titles including gems such as ‘Salters of Madness’, ‘Pod Hates Us All’, ‘Eyehatesalt’, ‘Spore Ensemble’, ‘Flying Snails’ and ‘The Chapter for Transforming into a Slug’.
But we also have a very dim and grim representation of the state of the world. Tyranny, corruption, political greed, poverty and the constant struggle of the average civilian backed up against the wall.
I caught up with Matt to gain some insight into this dizzying world where comedy and tragedy are entwined alongside a unique and creative blend of blast beats, progressive tendencies, top tier riff work and a combination of gargantuan gutturals and triumphant moments of clean-sung clarity.
What can you tell me about the early days of Slugdge and where this concept came from?
- We first met when Kev was 15 and had moved to England with his family, he was playing drums in a hardcore band we had at the time. Slugdge was just something very spur of the moment. At the time Kev was about to join another band that included Moat Lowe (who we've just got into Slugdge to play bass) and a group of his other friends in Blackpool where he was living at the time.
As for me, I wasn't doing a lot. I'd spent years recovering from a serious mental health disorder that had really taken me out of the loop, and certainly didn't have any big musical aspirations.
We started Slugdge proper on October 28th 2012 as a way to amuse ourselves. I remember that day only because I uploaded the demo for ‘Eyehatesalt’ onto YouTube, and it's still there. For both of us, it was quite a cathartic exercise, as well as a way to reignite our friendship, as we'd fallen out of touch over the years.
In 2013 Slugdge independently released their first album, ‘Born of Slime’. With a raw, harsh and abrasive audible component to accompany, this was to be the beginning of a conceptual narrative that has been building upon itself for six years now.
I recall hearing this album by chance on a car ride across Australia and being completely taken off guard, particularly by the song ‘Killing Fields’. What was the process behind putting this album together?
- There's not really a great deal to tell about ‘Born of Slime’; almost the entire thing was written and recorded in a week. It was the first time Kev had been round for a few years. I was still living with my old housemate at the time who was trying to raid on World of Warcraft while I screeched in the background (sorry Chris). He's since become a fan luckily.
We did set ourselves particular limitations in the beginning. For example, I fully intended to throat sing everything, and it was meant to be sludge metal mixed with death metal. We also planned to release it on December 21st 2012, the day of the "Apocalypse", but none of those things came to fruition, sadly. So it was never really intended for mass public consumption, a little like our previous musical ventures, but that also changed. The one consistent thing right from the beginning was the theme.
How exactly did this theme come about?
- It started as a joke; rather unexcitingly it was slugs because we were making slug puns in relation to sludge metal. The focus had really been on music since the beginning. I recall I just starting talking about the Greatfather/Slugmother/Mollusca one day, as though it'd always been, quite relentlessly - yet nobody questioned it. Says a lot about me!
The following year Matt and Kev released their second effort, again independently, titled ‘Gastronomicon’.
Given the level of intricacy involved in the music itself, let alone the lyrical concept, and the fact that a mere twelve months separated the first couple of albums, I’m guessing some of these songs had been in the works for quite some time?
- Actually, no. ‘Gastronomicon’ was also written in a very short span of time and it was almost all spur of the moment bar one or two exceptions. I developed a fairly serious illness in the middle of making ‘Gastronomicon’ that, for at least a time, the doctors thought was life-threatening, so that was a major blow to say the least. I remember coughing up blood recording the vocals for the song ‘Salters of Madness’, which was also a very death-centric song. Looking back that probably wasn't the best idea in the world, but I really thought I might not get to finish that album so thought, "Oh well, fuck it." I survived though, and we saw it through.
A few notable exceptions on the album were ‘Sound of Mucus’, which I hallucinated was being sung to me by someone in the rain one night, so that wrote itself pretty much, and ‘Slimewave Zero’ which I'd written years before in another band but was revived for Slugdge.
The first album had been an exercise in back to basics for us; I mean we could both play well enough already by this point, so ‘Gastronomicon’ had felt like a bit of a step up in terms of technicality and composition, but not by much. We were somewhat inhibited by the HM-2 pedal, which is a one trick pony even on its best days, but sounds very dirty like we wanted, so we were also battling with our gear which was pretty old and knackered by that point.
The artwork for this album features a slug, a wizard and some other nefarious elements, painted in a style one might see in fine art books.
- A friend of ours, Zen O'Conor, did the original artwork for the band. He was an old friend of Kevs from Scotland who'd been away to Florence to study art, and he's very good. He'd never really done album art before that and I think initially he was just humouring us, but it was cool and totally weird for an extreme metal band so we ran with it. The outline for the cover I gave him was just "Make it have a slug, and make it blue, maybe something aquatic…” and he gave us a cyclopean slug with a naked redhead, and Gandalf, randomly, which I thought was pretty amusing.
‘Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms’ was a noticeable step up for the band, both in songwriting and production value. Present still are the chunks of dirt sprinkled throughout the album, but there is an overall sense of grandeur and clarity that was absent on previous releases.
Once again, this album is presented with an enjoyable and fitting visual counterpart.
- ‘Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms’ was really the beginning of the expansion of the Molluscan mythos, but for reasons that probably aren't immediately obvious. ‘Gastronomicon’ and ‘Born of Slime’ did heavily reference various entities such as Rhaexorog, Kak and Ick, Lord Bothris, Lady Vlekt and of course, Mollusca, but much of ‘Gastronomicon’ was actually about environmental concerns and humanity’s treatment of the natural world.
I was, and to some degree still am, really into the philosophy of anarcho-primitivism. I took a lot away from what I learned reading about it from people like John Zerzan and Kevin Tucker. I had initially become interested in the subject after reading The Unabomber Manifesto, regrettably. Although, I never advocated what he actually did… so put it down to morbid curiosity.
I'd always felt very close to nature but simultaneously torn from it, which I guess is what happens when you were as heavily medicated as I was growing up and through my teens. I'd never felt farther from it though than when I fell ill during ‘Gastronomicon’, and a lot of ‘Dim and Slimeridden Kingdoms’ is a reflection on mortality, lost opportunity and unresolved issues from the past.
The mythos became my way of talking about that, and is probably quite difficult to interpret from the lyrics alone. For example, ‘Flying Snails’ from that album is about my father’s self-destructive life and eventual death; how I watched events leading up to it, and in the state he was in when he was found. It's all quite depressing for me, but at the same time I feel numb to it too, and I was quite resentful towards him for a long time; less so now. It's not fully processed though; I'm working on it.
The meanings are very personal, but also impersonal. It's also my way of reaching out to others who felt like they started in the dirt, the gutter, or felt as though that's where they belonged, but used fantasy worlds as a means of escape. Much of the lyrical content has also got a lot to do with a loss of trust and respect for authority, both real and imagined, which happened for me when I was very young.
Can you elaborate on the impetus behind the ever-present socio-political currents within your lyrics?
- I just couldn't resist. I promised myself I wouldn't get too political on any of the songs, as I'm not very ideological, but I'm fairly community minded and bio-centrist so anything I view as divisive or destructive to the environment I take a very dim view of.
We seriously need to improve our discourse, especially online. We're not experts on everything, deference isn't a weakness, neither is humility, and I think if you extend the olive branch rather than wading in screaming you'll have more success. I'm not an imbecile, but I'm not a genius either, and nobody is perfect. Take the political opinions of musicians, YouTubers, actors and TV hosts with a pinch of salt, and certainly don't get them from pseudo-intellectuals, theologians and conspiracy theorists.
I occasionally have a recurring dream of Alex Jones doing the entertainment at a children's party dressed as a clown and the children are crying as it descends into an anti-semitic monologue he doesn't realise is an anti-semitic monologue. Don't be like that guy.
It wasn’t long until Slugdge would take one giant step forward. The band soon signed with American label WILLOWTIP RECORDS who re-released their entire back catalogue to a global audience and would go on to unleash the fourth, critically acclaimed album ‘Esoteric Malacology’ in March 2018.
How did the Willowtip deal come about, and how has your experience been, given that you had been doing everything in-house up until this point?
- Jason messaged me on Twitter, which I never checked, and sent an email about a record deal, which I had deleted by accident. Luckily I got back to him and asked him to send it again, which he did!
I was dubious of anything record industry related at first but took a chance as I was already very aware of Willowtip, who'd put out great albums already. My doubts about the industry were put at ease though as Willowtip have been nothing but supportive and very laid back about the whole thing. I certainly couldn't have dealt with putting out all that vinyl.
How has the reaction to ‘Esoteric Malacology’ been for you guys?
- The reaction has been extremely good, far surpassing anything we could have imagined. We're just a couple of guys living in the forest in rainy north-west England, so this sort of thing isn't supposed to happen to people like us. To have musicians you respect as virtuosic players and composers talk about your music in the way they have is truly inspiring, and actually made me go a little bit crazy for a while. I think it was all just very overwhelming. They have all embraced us though, as peers, and that acceptance was the best feeling in the world for me… it makes all the bullshit and nonsense leading up to it worth the struggle. I'm under no illusions that it's some kind of cure-all, but for now, it has helped me a lot. Luckily for me, it's easy to just go out into the forest with my dog and have time to myself. I feel that keeps me very grounded and at peace.
In the latter part of 2018, Slugdge announced the arrival of additional band members; bassist Moat Lowe and drummer Alan Cassidy (THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER).
This would be the first time that Matt and Kev have let anybody into their creative realm and fans were quick to surmise the reasoning behind this move was directly related to the live arena and potential touring.
- We'd become friends with Alan around the time we released ‘Gastronomicon’ and he asked quite a few times to do drums for us, but because of the nature of the band I kind of didn't want to draw anyone else into it at the time (despite that feeling like a mistake, because he genuinely loved the music). We fixed that mistake recently and things are going well, plus it's a burden off me having to program the drums, and ultimately I was never keen on programmed drums in the first place.
Moat has been a friend for years, as I said, and he really digs the music so that just felt right. Both drums and bass had always been somewhat neglected, but not anymore! As for live shows, it's a possibility, but nothing is on the cards at the moment. Because of my history travel is quite difficult and will only be more difficult when Britain exits the EU unfortunately. There is always hope though.
This is an excerpt of the full interview conducted, in which Matt gives insight into Slug Life and The Cosmic Cornucopia and further discusses musical influences and grindcore in the UK.
The full interview is available in the print edition of Inner Missive #2, alongside discussions with THY DARKENED SHADE, WOLCENSMEN, THE ANTICHRIST IMPERIUM, ART AS CATHARSIS, ALTARS, GRIFT, ALTARAGE, ADRIAN BAXTER, PRIMITIVE MAN, COSMIC PUTREFACTION, EMYN MUIL, GIGAN, BYRDI, ULCERATE and ÖXXÖ XÖÖX.