Painkiller – Execution Ground

Posted: 3 September 2016 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Karlrecords – KR025 – 23rd September 2016

Christopher Nosnibor

If you though that free jazz couldn’t be brutal and punishingly aggressive, you clearly haven’t heard Painkiller. A three-way collaboration between three legends in their own rights – namely Bill Laswell, John Zorn and Napalm Death’s Mick Harris, the three albums they released in the early 90s represent the work of a true supergroup: not just a coming together of names, but creative powers combining convergent forces to forge something exceptional. Guts of a Virgin and Buried Secrets, both released on Earache Records, melded grindcore and free jazz to devastating effect, but it was their final album, the double-CD sign-off that was Execution Ground (1994) that saw them take things to another towering level.

That 1994 is now 22 years ago is hard to digest: not only are there kids listening to Nirvana who weren’t born when Kurt Cobain ended it, but adults too. Nevertheless, it’s 22 years since Execution Ground was released, and only now is it receiving a vinyl pressing, in a limited run of 500 (with the obligatory download code). And yes, an album of such sonic depth more than warrants a vinyl edition, and Karlrecords have done themselves proud, with the 180g double vinyl mastered and cut by Rashad Becker in Berlin. There’s a slight change to the original running order here, with ‘Pashupatinath’ being cut from the vinyl and tacked on at the end of the download, but nevertheless it works, and the key point to note is that this doesn’t sound like an album from 22 years ago. But then, it doesn’t sound like an album from any time.

Zorn’s alto sax playing in the opening minutes is beyond wild, and it’s underpinned by a thudding, gut-rumbling bass. Everything about the album is immense: ‘Parish of Tama (Ossuary Dub)’ works the full sonic spectrum and distils the most potent elements of grindcore and jazz, while bringing down the pace to a glacial grind. Simultaneously frantic and pulverizing, it pulls the listener in two different directions, and possesses a dark turbulence powerful enough to tear you in half.

‘Morning of Balachaturdasi’ begins with a slow, heavy drum beat, joined next by a dolorous chime of a repeated bass chord. Half Swans, half Shellac… and then the sax. Fuck, the sax! Its shrill, it has attack, and while the rhythm sections gradually dissolves into a sea of echo, quintessentially jazzy grooves rise up and the playing really wigs out. Over the course of its quarter-hour running time, it builds to punishing crescendos, drops back down to almost nothing, with extended semi-ambient passages which in turn yield to shrieking sonic assaults with the brutal rhythm section producing some deep, dark dub vibes.

The ‘ambient’ versions are darkly menacing, and swampy echoes drift and swirl, offering little by way of comfort. In the distance, sax honks parp and bray like a wild beast begging for mercy from within the belly of a whale. Drum breaks erupt and vanish into think, murky air, while tortured voices howl in agony from the depths. The bass is so low and edgy it’s positively stealthy and almost subliminal in its attack. But attack it does, as it nags away, strumming and thrumming and skipping and dipping. Thirteen minutes into ‘Parish of Tama (Ambient)’, a crescendo of crashing drums and satanic thrashing and gnashing offer a view into the black heart of purgatory.

It’s certainly not ‘ambient’ in any conventional sense, and nor do these epic sonic expanses conform strictly to the tropes of ‘dark ambient’, instead making for something altogether dense, more oppressive and more sinister.

It’s a brain-frying and utterly monumental work of epic scope, depth and dimensionality. However far genes cross, you’d be hard-pressed to find a work which pushes forward across seemingly incompatible genres, and even more hard-pressed to find one which succeeds like Execution Ground.

 

painkiller-execution-ground

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