IN THE PRE-RELEASE promotional materials for Stoneburner's new album Life Drawing, an illuminating quote is attributed to the band:
"Over the last couple of years we've forged friendships, made enemies, hated our jobs, had loved ones die, seen each other through loss, and laughed at our failures. If you take the time to listen you'll hear it all in there somewhere; as raw, ugly, and honest as we know how to be. And fuck it all anyway. This works better than therapy."
It sounds like the Portland crust-sludge quartet considers their music a form of personal catharsis.
"Absolutely," say guitarist Elijah Boland and bassist Damon Kelly, in unison.
"We didn't wanna use that word because of Yob," continues Kelly, referencing the 2003 album Catharsis by the Oregon doom titans, "but, y'know ..."
"It's the right word," says Boland.
Life Drawing, released on the Neurot Recordings label, is raw and ugly, for sure. But its heaviest moments—the lumbering hate-fuzz of "Pale New Eyes," the relentless chug of "Done," the spastic thrash of "You Are the Worst"—are balanced by extended moments of beauty, either quiet, psychedelic passages of longer songs or the album's two delicate, fingerpicked interludes.
And then there's the final track, "The Phoenix," an 18-minute epic that gently evolves from noodly astral exploration into progressive hard rock, encrusted with black-lunged shrieks and laced with a bewitching pop undercurrent. It's a stunning track that recalls the crossover sludge-pop band Baroness, though Stoneburner stays gnarlier than Baroness ever does.
Life Drawing, which was recorded by single-monikered producer Fester at Portland's Haywire Studios, is Stoneburner's second album since forming six years ago. It's a more inclusive work than their debut, 2012's Sickness Will Pass, as it incorporates elements of songwriting from each member, allowing more of the band's melodic side to shine. (Guitarist Jason Depew and drummer Jesse McKinnon round out the lineup.)
"It's something we've always had," Boland says. "On the first album, those dynamics are in there a little bit, but on this one they're certainly creeping in there a little more. It just comes from who writes what and we just have to put it together right."
Kelly is more straightforward in describing the band's workflow: "I just like to make fucked-up noises."
Thematically, however, the band's art takes less effort. It simply reflects life as Stoneburner knows it.
"It's just what comes out, because it's every day," Boland says. "'Every day' is the theme, and every day for us just happens to be pretty shitty."