When asked in February of 2020 if there was any secret to his bands 30+ years worth of longevity, Eyehategod frontman Mike IX Williams replied “We’re too stupid to quit… we’re like bacteria. We keep growing and we won’t go away. I’m sure some people want us to go away.”(1) A response delivered like only a wordsmith like Williams could come up with on the fly, his remarks about “bacteria” and growing despite their unwelcome status aren’t exactly unaccurate. Formed in New Orleans in 1988, Eyehategod were certainly looked upon initially like a bacteria at a time when thrash still dominated most metal circles. Taking a page from one of their most crucial influences, the Melvins, who had done the same a few years earlier with the hardcore punk crowd, the young Eyehategod played slow, deliberately antagonizing speed-hungry audiences. Yet despite the initial persona non grata status, Eyehategod’s potent burning spoonful of the Melvins’ hefty punk in slow motion, the second side of Black Flag’s My War, the doom of Black Sabbath and Saint Vitus along with additional spoonfuls of classic hardcore punk and southern rock and blues stuck and very quickly other bands began following Eyehategod’s blueprint, the band universally considered pioneers of what the metal press would dub “sludge metal” (despite Williams rather dismissive attitude toward that term throughout the years). While many bands have been content to follow the basic fundamentals of Eyehategod’s sound and not much more (with varying degrees of success), as Williams attested, Eyehategod, despite having a discography consisting of six studio albums, have only kept growing and refuse to go away, the bands sixth full-length album A History of Nomadic Behavior landing at the definition of “right place, right time.”
Along with joining the likes of “Take as Needed for Pain” and “Dopesick” as the latest in a line of evocative Eyehategod album titles, A History of Nomadic Behavior is, like Williams’ bacterial growth analogy, an appropriate title in a number of ways. While New Orleans will always be home, the band have earned the title of “road dogs” after years of exhaustive world touring, though the “Nomadic Behavior” of the title could also very well infer the various non-musical histories of certain members be they legal, medical or otherwise which partially accounts for Eyehategod’s patient studio album schedule or lack thereof. The events during the fourteen-year gap between the band’s fourth album Confederacy of Ruined Lives (2000) and 2014 self-titled perhaps the most trying of all for the band with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina leaving Williams homeless and eventually jailed, though throughout the ordeal Williams was able to finally defeat years of heroin addiction. The band was drawn yet another hand of bad luck a year prior to the release of their self-titled comeback with the sudden passing of drummer Joey LaCaze on August 23, 2013, from respiratory failure after long-term asthma. The band very quickly bounced back, however, welcoming new drummer and fellow New Orleans native Aaron Hill to the fold three months following LaCaze’s passing. Hill would even find himself the star of his own chapter in Eyehategod’s nomadic history book in July of 2019 after being attacked with a knife and robbed while on tour in Guadalajara, Mexico. Hill’s response, in typical Eyehategod fashion, was to post a photo of his blood-stained Roky Erickson shirt he was wearing during the ordeal. And if that weren’t enough, in December of 2016 Williams underwent a successful liver transplant having been diagnosed with late-stage cirrhosis following years of substance abuse. Suffice to say Eyehategod has a history behind them in the nearly seven years in between the 2014 self-titled comeback album and A History of Nomadic Behavior alone that would break any other band, though yet again Williams’ remarks about growing bear repeating.
Released on March 12, 2021, A History of Nomadic Behavior is in many ways a sequel to the self-titled album though like a proper sequel the album takes ideas from the 2014 release and writes a new story. Recording-wise, the album is a lateral step. While no Eyehategod release can in good conscience be called “clean” sounding, the 2014 album struck a brilliant balance by possessing a noticeably less raw, more clear sound than their seminal 90’s albums, yet at the same time, the production style gave the band their thickest tones yet. Always an incredibly heavy band, there was even more considerable weight to the guitars and drums on the self-titled album, a weight the band maintained on A History of Nomadic Behavior with now lone guitarist Jimmy Bower adding to his already hulking tone, the album the first recorded by the band as a four-piece following guitarist Brian Patton’s departure in 2018 due to family commitments. While Eyehategod’s nomadic wanderings had them going back in the same production directions, the songwriting on A History of Nomadic Behavior goes down some slightly new paths. One thing the 2014 release proved was a significant tightening of the songwriting with the southern blues groove always present in the Eyehategod sound becoming even more prominent than before. A History of Nomadic Behavior takes the focus on groove even further, the band setting aside the torturous, opiate withdraw inspired dirges found on earlier releases in favor of more compact, mid-tempo, bluesy stomps that lay the foundations of tracks like “Fake What’s Yours”, “Current Situation”, “High-Risk Trigger” and “The Outer Banks”, the band injecting a dose of vintage hardcore into the later. Despite being down one member the playing is even tighter than the grooves, the album also is the first official studio recording with Hill, long settled into the band prior to entering the studio. Hill’s beating against the walls of piercing feedback on “Current Situation”, an essential ingredient to the Eyehategod sound, does recall classic Eyehategod, though it’s later on the album on “The Trial of Johnny Cancer” where the band’s continued evolution becomes most apparent. Even more startling than the distressing audio sample opening of a man lamenting his fear of going to sleep due to fears of never knowing when “they’re going to break in on you”, are the opening notes and main motif of the song from Bower, an actual melody. Of course, it’s an extremely mournful, funeral, and certainly swampy sounding melody, very Dave Chandler of Saint Vitus, but a melody nonetheless.
The newfound intelligibility of Williams’ vocals on the 2014 release continues on A History of Nomadic Behavior with Williams’ not only delivering his most direct vocal performance on an Eyehategod album yet but doing it with an agonized wretchedness and rasp that at times does recall Confederacy of Ruined Lives. It’s Williams’ performance, both vocally and lyrically that makes A History of Nomadic Behavior such a resonant work. Trite as the observation is no doubt going to seem, it’s impossible not to remark on the impeccable timing of the self-stylized “Masters of Legalized Confusion” releasing an album during an age of socio-psychological boot camp, rife with agitation, propaganda bought and paid for social division and a generalized feeling of delirium tremens brought on by acute anti-depressant withdrawal. The mood is reflected upon first glance of song titles like “Built Beneath the Lies”, “Current Situation”, “High-Risk Trigger”, “Circle of Nerves”, The Day Felt Wrong” and “Every Thing, Every Day”. While Williams’ lyrics retain their trademark abstractions, “The Trial of Johnny Cancer” being especially surreal with lines like “Christmas dinner in the bedroom closet, someone’s history but not mine”, but here too there seems to be a more direct nature to Williams’ writing, which, given the albums release date does make A History of Nomadic Behavior an oddly universal release in many ways. A great irony for a band often cited as one of metal’s most hideous sounding and misanthropic from a rather niche subgenre, though again Williams’ cryptic rantings carry a strong resonance, particularly his ravings on being “Handicapped by the system” or “Facing lifelong eviction” in “Current Situation”. “The Day Felt Wrong” too feels especially pertinent to any given number of the existential frustrations happening around the album’s writing and recording with Williams’ howls of “Rejected by society, no exit strategy”, “Blank slate, damaged state” and the repeated refrain of:
“Cult of guilt, methadone
Cheated by authority
Provoked to revenge
No room with a view”
However perhaps Williams’ most stinging lyrical proclamation, and the perfect summation of the album serving as a sort of mirror of its times, comes from the final verse of the album’s penultimate track “Circle of Nerves”, Williams capping off the below section with a wonderfully sarcastic “Motherfucker!”:
“Non-exist basement life
Standing in the breadline
Shaken up needless time
Living by the dirty mattress
Broken by the separation sadness
I live in a hole in the ground ”
For anyone uninitiated with Eyehategod, the timeliness of the album’s release might seem a cynical ploy by the band and record label, however, while some of the sounds on A History of Nomadic Behavior might be new to Eyehategod, the nihilism on display is exactly the same brand that Eyehategod first debuted with back in 1990 on In the Name of Suffering and can be found in Williams’ 2005 collection of poetry and prose Cancer as a Social Activity: Affirmations of a Worlds End. Similarly, the actual physical product of A History of Nomadic Behavior is classic Eyehategod with its diseased scrapbook design and layout, Williams’ words spread out unidentified amidst various distressed, vintage medical textbook photos and clippings noting the “apparent lack of concern about infection.” Such has been the visual aesthetic of Eyehategod since the beginning with similar layouts accompanying previously mentioned albums like In the Name of Suffering and their landmark 1993 second album Take as Needed for Pain. The ideal visual companion to the sounds heard on the albums with the imagery hitting just as hard as the music after repeated listens and flips through the liner notes. Like the artwork on all previous Eyehategod releases, there’s a sense of outlaw mystique and danger surrounding A History of Nomadic Behavior. The band’s own nomadic history and various exploits may be well known to their fans yet the same sense of outlaw mystique and danger still follows Eyehategod over 30 years after their formation. To once more use Williams’ bacterial parallel, the particular strain offered by Eyehategod on A History of Nomadic Behavior is not only wanted but desperately needed.
1. Eyehategod interview 14.02.2020 Kulturhaus Astra, Berlin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Htk1YSwjnhE. 2020.