Interstellar Records – INT043
And suddenly, one cold, wet, dark, depressing November night, an album arrives that slaps you round the face, hard, and makes its presence known. And within three songs, you know it’s probably one of the best things you’ve heard all year. And it’s a concept album.
I’d been thinking that 2017 hasn’t been a great year for music, while chewing on the irony of the fact I often berate people making the same complaint for their failure to look in the right places: there is always good – awesome, exciting – new music emerging from somewhere. Admittedly – and this shouldn’t be about me, but I find that reception of music is an intensely personal and individualism – I may not have in the most receptive of moods, or have kept up with as much of the music passed my way this year, but 2017 simply doesn’t feel like one of the greats, despite having a handful of clear highlights. But these highlights are less about objective merit and commercial success, and what’s actually stuck. This, however, is an album with immediate impact. It grabs the listener by the throat in the opening bars. And it doesn’t let up.
According to the liner notes, ‘Calamitas deals with danger babe Ruby, who stole Silvio Berlusconi’s heart, Satan deceiving us all by using the purgatory doctrine, dictator Kim Jong Senior (II), the sexiest man alive back in the days, beautiful femmes fatales with a look that kills, the man who cut off his own leg to get disablement pension (he didn’t succeed), personal misery, the best days of my life, the abyss that is staring back, etc.’ So, it’s a true story, albeit one where the narrative is buried beneath a strain of sinewy guitars and barked vocal delivering impenetrable lyrics. And that’s all good.
‘Calamitas’, we also learn, means ‘loss, disaster, damage, harm, defeat and misfortune’. These things, the album’s ten tracks convey with crystal clarity through the medium of raging, guitar-driven noise. And as much as Calamitas is a snarling, gnarly mess of brutality, it’s gritty, tense, and cut from a different cloth from so much murky metal thrashing.
I’m reminded as much of anything of the swagger of Girls vs Boys on their debut album, Hey Colossus, and Henry Blacker, and there’s a strong flavour reminiscent of Helmet and The Jesus Lizard and the Am Rep / Touch and Go label styles. There’s noodly, Shellac-meets-Tar math-grunge on ‘A Knife for Every Heart’ and ‘Best Days of Our Lives’, which builds a tripwire tension. ‘Fuck me Blind’ is darkly claustrophobic, built around a cyclical riff, sinewy top guitars and ballistic hollering. There’s also a gnarly blues undercurrent to many of the songs here, and for all the messy guitars, the bass is pure thunder and lays down some irresistible grooves over the course of the album’s ten cuts. There’s a dark, gritty vibe and a gloriously ragged edge to it all, and Markus Dolp’s gruff, Cookie Monster vocals have hints of Tom Waits and JG Thirlwell.
Some cuts do venture into all-out hardcore punk / metal attack, like the squalling black mass that is, opener ‘Anti’ but what makes Calamitas such a corking album – beyond the fact that it simply is a corking album – is its range. Yes, it’s all a bloody, brutal, guitar-driven mess of noise, as becomes a band who’ve spent two decades exploring the terrains of noise-rock, but it’s sonically articulate while it rages blindly and incogently. It’s the perfect balance, and the frenetic and the furious drive that defines Calamitas makes for a gloriously intense listen.