Author: Brian Kubarycz

Visitors
Blueshift
Self-Released
Street: 06.20
Visitors = Deftones + Rush

Rarely does an EP sound so much like a full-fledged album. Musical offerings of such satisfying integrity do not hatch, fully formed, by sheer happenstance. Blueshift combines fist-sized chunks of aboriginal talent with months of coffee-addicted, all-night hunkering sessions, to yield prog metal that feels not heavily labored, but cleanly wrought on every level. In a metal scene encumbered by musical George Foremans, Visitors have diligently trained to flutter about like Ali—less grilling, more drilling. Blueshift’s sound descends principally from pre-millennial alt-metal. But a full appreciation of the recording, produced by Joel Pack, requires harkening back to classic rock bands whose songs were not merely ponderous and sprawling, but artfully structured, full of instrumental and vocal character, nuance, incidents, reversals, plumage. In today’s prosaic park of bronto-rockers, Visitors—post-flightless birds—take wing and wax into verse, into veritable song. –Brian Kubarycz

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The Body | I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer | Thrill Jockey Records

The Body
I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer

Thrill Jockey
Street: 05.11
The Body = Khanate + Bauhaus + Kate Bush

The latest album by Providence, Rhode Island’s The Body is yet another addition to a growing sub-genre of heavy music. While many far wiser than I might refer to I Have Fought Against It as a paradigmatic example of post-rock or ambient metal, I prefer to call it “cinematic metal.” Though clunky, academic and pretentious, this name seems less derogatory and dismissive than “soundtrack metal.” Certainly, it sounds less ridiculous than “cinemetal,” which, to my ear, can’t help but conjure thoughts of 880-calorie franchise-manufactured pastries. 

The album’s opening track, “The Last Form of Loving,” begins with a somber and austere duo of violins, evocative of some adagio by the late Beethoven or Bartók. In time, these strains are replaced by guest Chrissy Wolpert, her solo female voice a sweet and clear alto, rich with emotive vibrato. This sounds lovely enough, and indeed it is. But the mood is underlain with a sense of impending menace provided by chirring industrial-style synthesizers or percussion—the production leaves this matter deliberately ambiguous. If Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns brilliantly captured suburban malaise in the sound of automated sprinkler systems, The Body zooms in until they appear to be water cannons. Another morning cigarette becomes a household inferno. Through cinematic and studio effects—extreme closeups, sudden shifts of focus, deliberate blurring and scratching, massive distortions, gated and triggered effects intended to warp time and space—The Body transports us to the world of David Lynch

While other cinematic acts, such as Earth, have tended to produce wide-open sounds to accompany nonexistent spaghetti westerns, The Body’s latest, by contrast, offers a kind of musical claustrophobia analogous to the uncanny—familiar but weirdly sinister—atmosphere of Lost Highway. Here, home is not a haven but rather the creepiest place on Earth. And yet, you continue to live there, at your own peril, to your own horror, and for God knows what fucking reason.

There are two fundamental qualities typify the whole of I Have Fought Against It. The first is sudden and unmotivated jumps. The second is constant refrain. A fair example of the former is the way the undeniably pretty vocals of “Last Form” immediately turned through howls and screams so distorted that one can scarcely determine if they proceed from a human maw, the world’s shittiest fuzz guitar or a wedding ring thrown into a microwave oven. As the album proceeds, more unexpected voices (Kate Bush in full banshee regalia? Lee Scratch Perry rub-a-dubbing? An anonymous crisis hotline caller?) and musical instruments (horns, pianos, kazoos, trash compactors) are violently yoked together, producing what I can only call a musical exquisite corpse, a radical hybrid of body parts and drawing styles equally likely to produce laughter, disgust or lust—and perhaps all at once. Surrealist poet Andre Breton, in order to capture such an unnatural image’s power of shock and seduction, found himself forced to borrow a famous phrase from literary madman Comte de Lautréamont’s notorious novel Les Chants de Maldoror: “as beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table.”

The other formal device structuring “I Have Fought Against It” is relentless refrain. Indeed, so often to the same chords and melodies and scream reappear that it become hard to know whether or not the album is set on repeat. This sort of ritornello ad nauseam, so characteristic typical the baroque concerto—as well as bourgeois high opera—is a musical vehicle for compulsive behaviors and dangerous emotions too great to be contained within domestic space. This is music bursting at the seams, recording on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

While the previous observations may seem a harsh critique, I can only the reply the most exquisite pleasure are seldom, if ever, natural. The Body may, however, be a taste some will be willing to acquire. To alter another famous passage from Lautremont: “Few shall savor this Cinnabon with impunity.” Brian Kubarycz

Wo Fat
The Conjuring
Small Stone
Street: 6.17
Wo Fat = Orange Goblin + Kung Pao

What’s in a name? Maybe too little or too much, or both at once. Especially if the name is inked onto your chest in a script–Chinese, Latin, Hittite—you can’t read. We’ve all seen it. When you have exhausted your own funds, grab the assets of others. Because theft (still) is (maybe) rock n’ roll. Such seems to be the informal logic guiding Wo Fat’s The Conjuring. Here is yet another down-tuned trio named after some low-brow exotic stereotype, in this case a network-television criminal mastermind. By now how many bands have tried—ironically or otherwise—to build a reputation on borrowed badass? Politics aside, Wo Fat brings to the counter a deep-fried slab containing nothing not falling within one industry’s limits of standard deviation. Sampled B-movie dialogue and tips of the brim to ZZ Top only add an extra onion ring to this musical Quarter Pounder with Cheese. Perhaps it’s for the best that I detect nothing genuinely plummy in the burger mix. No doubt, an established demographic will eagerly consume The Conjuring. –Brian Kubarycz

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Pallbearer

Foundations of Burden

Profound Lore

Street: 07.19

Pallbearer = Cathedral +
Alice In Chains + Europe (“The Final Countdown”)

The latest Pallbearer was proffered to me with eager enthusiasm, as one oenophile might pour for another some newly discovered appellation. Certainly, Foundations of Burden, produced by the mighty Billy Anderson and distributed by Profound Lore, came with plenty to recommend it. Actually heard, this album amounts to a 55-minute funeral service and it contains everything doom pervs of today might crave—traffic-jam-slow tempos, strings tuned so low that they are scarcely recognizable as guitars, tom-toms clubbed with marching-band mallets. Atop all this are wailing vocals falling somewhere on the spectrum between Ramadan prayers and Canadian power trio Triumph. In the midst of all the bombast, the album’s finest track turns out to be the subdued and downright pretty “Ashes,” a lullaby played on a Fender Rhodes piano. I will confess, I found the full album mildly irritating. If anything, Foundations made me want to listen instead to Henry Purcell and the actual funeral dirges and laments that inspired it. Still, while I myself found the wine sour, there will be many who savor these same fruits and declare the vintage genuinely great. –Brian Kubarycz
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Earthless
From The Ages
Tee Pee
Street: 10.08.13
Earthless = Blue Cheer + Pink Floyd + Ted Nugent
Whether through mere folly or the duty of genius, Earthless open their latest with an unabated quarter hour of stack-amplified tweedle-deedle-dee. This is “Free Bird” entered through the outro. Imagine—a dozen layers deep in stoner blues—forgetting there was ever a verse or chorus, or ever any vocals at all, even air to breathe. Imagine tossing the whole structural fuckload and just soloing in brazen différance. To consider this is to glimpse the errance of From The Ages, a shameless hour of protracted Double Live Gonzo! endings and wah-wahs hooked on Paganini. Too much, in this case, may well be too goddamn much already. Still, the mind boggles at the sheer quantity of plasma Earthless can tap from a single musical vein. This is exegetical audacity of a kind seldom seen outside the kabbalistic Zohar, on a scale approaching Sleep’s sprawling Dopesmoker. –Brian Kubarycz

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Apocalyptica
Wagner Reloaded – Live in Leipzig
BMG
Street: 11.19.13
Apocalyptica = Metallica + Mussorgsky + Yanni
A walk to the Clean-Air Rally was my occasion to hear the latest from Europe’s darling doom-cello quartet. At first, Wagner Reloaded filled my ear buds with drones evoking the bleak and forlorn honking of Ingram Marshall’s Fog Tropes, a sextet for brass and foghorns. But the promised ambient excursion was soon compromised by a sprinkle of audience applause. It broke as neither barroom hollering nor stadium cheers, but, rather, the socially mandated manifestation of mass approbation, and one sounding suspiciously studio-produced. Thereupon commenced an hour of overripe and sodden symphonic salmagundi. Whether wallowing in themes cut and pasted from Beethoven, maudlin lullabies (with sampled baby prattle) or the most domesticated of Phrygian exoticism, the album consistently eschews any of the rapturous chromatism Wagner used to drown and annihilate the bourgeois ego. In this mendaciously misnamed cyclops, every wart and wrinkle oozes with narcissistic libido. It is unsuitable even for guilty listening. –Brian Kubarycz
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Making Fuck
Self-Titled 7”
Self-Released
Street: 03.05
Making Fuck = Sound Garden + Converge

Making Fuck, Salt Lake’s latest crusaders for atheism, want to make one thing perfectly clear: They will be heard. They are Kory Quist (guitar and vocals), Jeff Wells (drums), and Jessica Bundy (cello). The opening salvo of “A Slave To The Lazy Boy” recalls Sound Garden’s Louder Than Love. Quist’s guitar, a veritable percussion instrument, leaves space between power chords for ringing and droning upstrokes. Well’s drumming sacrifices commotion for blunt impact. What distances Making Fuck from classic grunge is hardcore shouting in place of expressive vocals, and the rejection of conventional song structure for minor variations on a basic riff. The sound, much indebted to engineer Andy Patterson, is as heavy as grunge, but more relentless. Bundy’s minimalist cello offers a respite from Making Fuck’s monolithic brutality. One only hopes to see her more fully integrated into Making Fuck, turning a very competent band into a unique one. –Brian Kubarycz

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Towards Chaos
Swimming The Desert

Self-Released
Street: 11.27.15
Towards Chaos = Alice In Chains + C.O.C. + Kyuss

A quick trip into Swimming The Desert from Salt Lake’s Towards Chaos will almost suffice to reveal the whole of the band’s monumental ambitions—almost.  STD is a rock n’ roll time machine, the controls of which are set for the heart of grunge. Having crossed the gateway of a murky, moody introduction, the band quickly throws the switch on its dual rectifiers and jolts their Frankenstein’s monster onto its begrimed Converse high tops. Submitted for your approval is a creature sutured from various remains of the ’90s—none of them especially anonymous—a golem modeled from the shake and resin deposits of every smoked-out quartet ever to sport a knitted hat in the heat of the noonday sun.  STD figures as an unapologetic effort to reap the danky weed of legendary bands from such humidity-afflicted Meccas as Seattle, Washington and Charlotte, and bake and refine the harvest clean in the kettle of this great western basin. 

If Brigham Young did indeed command his faithful to make Deseret green with hemp weed, sounds such as those produced by Towards Chaos might well have been the side effect. But to unearth their roots, STD’s crunchy djenty chords come straight from the annals of Pepper Keenan and Jerry Cantrell.  The ‘tudey phlegmy vocals are textbook Lane Staley. The pounding grooves are all but lifted from albums of a skunkier time. To the band’s credit, this is a facsimile fair enough to pass for the genuine article. If stitched from remnants, STD is no hack job, but the work of a rock n’ roll Carlyle—an electric, opiate Sartor Resartus

The most interesting aspect of STD is not its close proximity to the vegetable from whence it fell, but rather the extent to which it manages, at times, to roll in unforeseen directions. For instance, it’s hard to listen to STD without hearing, with great delight, hints of Aerosmith’s Stephen Tyler blooming up through the dust. While this allusion might be entirely unintentional, the decision to cover The Police’s “Wrapped Around Your Finger” was deliberate and brilliant. In Towards Chaos’ grip, Sting’s lyrics are freed from their literary pretensions and allowed to lash out as simply pissed off. The effect is unexpectedly immediate and powerful. Here, Towards Chaos are at their very best, revisiting the known past and modifying it to make it feel fresh and jagged-edged again. –Brian Kubarycz

Insect Ark | Marrow Hymns | Profound Lore

Insect Ark
Marrow Hymns

Profound Lore
Street: 02.23
Insect Ark = Earth + Daniel Lanois + Pallbearer

It’s no small challenge to write about metal bands without vanishing within a cloud of hyperbolic clichés about fiery disfigurement, the second law of thermodynamics, or the horrific origins of hamburger and luncheon meats. However, ambient duo Insect Ark make the reviewer’s task less impossible. With the help of black studio magic, Dana Schechter (multi-instrumentalist) and Ashley Spungin (percussion) have created a sound, which, if not entirely without precedent, is nevertheless recognizably their own and firmly under their control.

Schechter began to perform in 2011 as a solo project, and continues to do so on occasion. Meanwhile, Spungin will perform at times under the aegis Ormus. What makes Insect Ark special is, in large measure, their choice of instrumentation. While Schechter seems at ease playing a variety of strings and keys, what is most characteristic and unexpected about the Insect Ark aesthetic is the very prominent use of lap steel guitar. This is a sound I had not before imagined hearing in metal of any sort. The near-universal eschewal of that instrument makes some sense, considering its immediate association with country/western and instrumental stylings from the Pacific islands. Nevertheless, Schechter employs the familiar, high-lonesome wail as a means toward unexpected and compelling ends. Those who balk at the thought would do well to hear and ponder Schechter’s cool musical evocation of never-ending badlands and starlit desert wastes. Marrow Hymns’ songs might run the risk of seeming perhaps too barren, as Insect Ark is a strictly instrumental project. However, Schechter’s guitar expertly assumes the mantel typically reserved for vocals. In this leading role, it conjures all the drama and emotion of actual singing while remaining entirely free of any witless or pretentious lyrics. Recall some of the more moving passages in pieces arranged for orchestra and violin, and you’ll have some notion of the eerie appeal of Insect Ark.

Of course, Schechter’s guitar is not the sole source of the Insect Ark sound. Spungin’s drumming furnishes a solid foundation and framework throughout the nine tracks of Marrow Hymns. But Spungin’s drumming is never overbearing or stifling. Her tactful restraint allows room for Schechter’s guitars to howl and cry like the wind through the cracks in long-abandoned walls. The effect is truly spectral, something not often achieved in doom or horror music. Finally, completing Insect Ark’s array of sounds is Spungin’s use of keys and synthesizers to create a dim cosmic backdrop against which the musical action is set.

Undoubtedly, listeners and reviewers will compare Insect Ark to a number of recent drone and atmospheric acts. Om or Boris might come to mind. However, such analogies leave out an essential aspect of Insect Ark: their penchant for drama. Classic albums from more familiar bands do demonstrate a keen awareness for composition and orchestration. But in addition to this, Insect Ark’s songs are characterized by a deliberate use of dynamics to create a cinematic sense of expectation. Insect Ark push this narrative function further than other bands in the genre. Rather than merely diming and cutting the fuzz box in quick alternation, Schecter’s guitars climb and descend, swell and exhale, gradually and organically. They bring to mind not only the space-cowboy guitars of Daniel Lanois (on Brian Eno’s Apollo, or with Rocco Deluca on Goodbye To Language), but also some of the trippier moments in classic Yes and Led Zeppelin albums, such as Close To The Edge or Physical Graffiti. It’s these far-out and mournful—rather than frenzied and annihilating—moments that make Marrow Hymns an album at once powerful and memorable. Insect Ark touch the listener more profoundly than other metal bands, precisely because instead of hacking and smashing their way into our bones, they instead drift into their center. –Brian Kubarycz