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From monster sludge-prog to Malian desert-blues: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Songhoy Blues
(Image credit: Songhoy Blues/YouTube)

The unpredictability of 2020 doesn't appear to be letting up any time soon, but there's one thing you can count on to bring you joy: our weekly roundup of the best tracks from the world of guitar.

This week, we've rounded up an all-new gospel-flavored track from Foo Fighters, the first music in 15 years from System of a Down, impossibly heavy prog goodness from Vennart, an uproarious, attitude-filled mountain of blues-rock grooves from Songhoy Blues and loads more. 

So strap in, hold onto your hats, and allow us to take you on a voyage through the latest weird and wonderful offerings from every corner of the guitar universe.

System Of A Down – Genocidal Humanoidz

Arriving just in time to save 2020, beloved odd-metal legends System of a Down recently released their first new music in 15 years in response to the conflict between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, selling the two new tracks on Bandcamp to raise proceeds for the Armenia Fund.

While the cause was tragic, the music itself was a pleasant surprise, not least because Protect the Land and Genocidal Humanoidz sounded, well, exactly like SOAD.

If pushed, we’d say Genocidal Humanoidz is the standout of the two. Written during a jam session a number of years back, it summons all the hallmarks of the band’s idiosyncratic take on metal, as Daron Malakian deploys volleys of one-finger powerchords, before a ferocious tremolo-picked blastbeat section updates the group’s formula for a new generation. Please, please, please can we get a full album now? (MAB)

Songhoy Blues – BADALA

The opening track from Optimisme, the third album from Malian desert-blues band Songhoy Blues, BADALA is an uproarious anthem. 

With delectably fuzzy riffs, a monstrous groove that’ll leave ZZ Top shaking in their boots and an infectiously punky attitude befitting of a song that’s dedicated to “the freedom and validation of the young,” BADALA is an absolute joy to listen to, from a band with limitless potential. (JM)

Foo Fighters – Shame Shame

Dave Grohl and co are back at it again with Shame Shame, a mid-tempo, partially stripped-back rock tune with smatterings of gospel thrown into the vocal lines. It’s also the first single of the band’s newly announced 10th studio album, Medicine at Midnight.

Debuting the track on Saturday Night Live last weekend, the Foos displayed its perfectly married acoustic and clean electric guitar lines, with Grohl offering up some tasty single half-note bends after the second chorus. Based on this evidence, we’re damn excited about what the new album has to offer. (SR)

Vennart – Super Sleuth

The former Oceansize frontman, Biffy Clyro guitarist and all-round pedal fiend released his latest album, In the Dead, Dead Wood, with absolutely zero fanfare last week. Which is ridiculous, really, given it’s among the best prog releases you’ll hear this year.

Lead-off track Super Sleuth fully indulges Mike Vennart’s Faith No More and Black Sabbath roots, with a gargantuan, sludgy chorus, piano breakdown, and even a supremely tasty, fuzz-rich solo.

If you consider yourself a fan of monster riffs and filthy guitar tones, you owe it to yourself to hear this. (MAB)

Dead Poet Society – .CoDA.

This Boston, Massachusetts four-piece just announced their debut full-length -!- (pronounced 'The exclamation album'). Scheduled to drop on February 12, 2021, the record looks set to cement the quartet into the upper echelons of groove-rock.

You might remember guitarist Jack Collins joining us for an episode of Sick Riffs earlier on in the COVID-19 pandemic, in which he taught you how to play the insane sliding techniques of .swvrm.

Listening to .CoDA. – a mid-tempo blues rocker with a modern, drop-tuned spin – you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a different band. This is the strength of Dead Poet Society’s chameleonic approach to songwriting – although their hugely memorable guitar riffs are a surefire constant. (SR) 

Ida Mae – Deep River (featuring Marcus King)

Though they hail from the UK, husband-and-wife duo Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean – under the name Ida Mae – put plenty of Yanks to shame with their unique spin on the folk-meets-country-meets-blues musical tradition of the South.

With gorgeous harmonies, killer hooks and biting, all-too-contemporary lyrics (“took out loans to learn to think”) Deep River never backslides into the innumerable cliches that kneecap so many of the tunes that lean on the bluesier side of the Americana spectrum.

With an absolutely smoking solo from one of the world’s best blues guitarists, Marcus King, as the cherry on top, Deep River shows exactly how to take old musical ingredients and make something fresh, natural and exciting out of it. We can’t wait to see what else this duo has up its sleeve. (JM) 

Enigma Experience – The Zone

Enigma Experience combine heavy talents from Sweden and Norway, boasting guitarist Niklas 'Mr. Dango' Källgren, ex-Truckfighters/Witchcraft drummer Oskar 'Pezo' Johansson and Breed/Motorfinger’s Maurice Adams among their ranks.

Together, they meld stoner and grunge, courtesy of Källgren’s uncompromisingly fuzz-drenched guitar tones – pushed way up in the mix – while Adams channels the haunting vocal delivery of Chris Cornell and Layne Staley. Ones to watch. (MAB)

Sinai Vessel – Tunneling 

For Caleb Cordes, the guitar always seems to be more of a vehicle – the dot-connector of the soaring, bracingly intimate and densely constructed songs he writes for his band, Sinai Vessel – than a showboating opportunity.  

Cordes loosens up a bit, however, on Tunneling – a highlight of the Nashville-based emo group’s terrific third album, Ground Aswim.

Though the rock-solid foundation of place-setting, muscular, palm-muted riffage is as visible on this tune as it is on many of the others on Ground Aswim, Cordes indulges himself midway through with a beautifully distortion-coated solo that’s the yin to the yang of the cleaner, more jangling lead work that otherwise peppers the captivating, six-minute song. (JM)