Harsh Conditions does feature a rawer audio quality, but it’s one that helps make the frostbitten narrative of the recording that much more appealing. There’s a certain chill in the air through most of the eleven tracks that make up this release of wintry survival, and the bulky, trudging riffs help drive the point of a life or death struggle home, especially when the music is at its slowest. “Dead in the Snow” creeps along nicely, pulling the pain in the mixture of rougher and cleaner stoner metal style vocal approach forward to compliment the generally harsh and unforgiving audio landscape being woven beyond the initial introductory low-tuned chords. In a way, the song feels like a frozen Black Sabbath track crossed with Cathedral, immediately casting a gloomy shadow over the listener equal to that of trying to stay warm on a midwinter’s night, even though some notes around a minute-and-a-half in are at just the right pitch to tickle your ears if you happen to have noise cancelling earbuds in.
That punishing track immediately stands out as one of the best, though is far from the only one. “Secluded Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” doesn’t quite have the same cold bite, but it doesn’t lay off the implied hardcore attitude. The slower pace oozes with authority behind the commanding riffs, bulked up by the rich buzzing distortion and held notes for effect. Then there’s “Instinct to Survive”, which channels a little more of a frantic persona from time to time. While not crazed or high-speed, this creeping cut does feel like a legitimate realization of the last available option to stay alive, all with a bout of Morbid Angel “God of Emptiness” reflection that seems to be the moment the dire circumstances finally settle in.
Of course, not every song here has that winter-laden sensation to it, nor would you expect it to judging by the start. “Efficient Kill” is your typical sludge performance with a hint of haziness in the thick, reverberating riffs. Come the two-minute mark, what traces of a stoner influence existed give way to a brief Neurosis tribal presence, subtle presence felt throughout the release. But, the overall Clutch-like attitude remains the forefront here, as well as during the further downplayed “Expired”. This shorter cut has more of a southern vibe to some of the guitar work, as if lurking around the murky swamps of Louisiana in a trance brought on by some of the surprisingly laid back, yet still thick and hypnotic music being performed.
For a completed album you couldn’t get their grubby mitts on for a good few years despite being finished, Harsh Conditions sadly isn’t the most breathtaking of sludge metal offerings out there. It is, however, still one well worth your time. There is a steady chill that runs through the effort once you hit “Dead In the Snow”, and it helps tie-up the recording into more of a conceptual one than just a loose collection of like-minded tracks from the same style or point of influence. Sure, some songs do seem to cut out rather abruptly, but these few times never really seem to be too detrimental to the tracks in question overall, instead acting like the end of a chapter before the next kicks up. One also can’t help but wonder if some of this stems from Sorxe becoming a more important role in Shane’s career, which is a viable option as well. Either way, this long overdue studio album from Via Vengeance does stand as one lovers of the sludge and doom metal style will enjoy, even if it wasn’t quite the powerhouse all had come to at least hope it would be.