Posts Tagged ‘Visceral’

Sacred Bones – 30th October 2020

Christopher Nosnibor

This collaborative release is as interesting as it is unexpected. Coming from the heavier and of the guitar-driven spectrum, it isn’t that the coming together of Emma Right Rundle and Thou is entirely unfitting, but it is unquestionably intriguing. The coming together of two such powerful forces has, unsurprisingly, yielded a work that is yet more powerful still.

As the press release observes, ‘while Emma Ruth Rundle’s standard fare is a blend of post-rock-infused folk music, and Thou is typically known for its downtuned, doomy sludge, the conjoining of the two artists has created a record more in the vein of the early ‘90s Seattle sound and later ‘90s episodes of Alternative Nation.’

Needless to say, it’s pretty heavy in places, and not just sonically, although the guitars – more of which shortly – feel heavy enough to shatter rocks, and again, to refer to the liner notes is to reaffirm this as they note how ‘The lyrical content of the album is a marriage of mental trauma, existential crises, and the ecstatic tradition of the expressionist dance movement. “Excessive sorrow laughs. Excessive joy weeps.” Melodic, melancholic, heavy, visceral.’

The grunge influence in this album is apparent and significant, and it’s nearly all in the riffage – but this is an album with rang and depth as well as some serious heft.

‘Killing Floor’ sees the trudging guitar riff emerging from the swirling fog of an atmospheric instrumental intro that borders on shoegaze, Rundle’s voice rises majestically from the thickly distorted power chords and Earth-like picking, and never has she sounded more commanding, more subtly powerful, and never has she come closer to sounding like Chelsea Wolf. And yet, never has she sounded more unique: Bryan Funk’s strained guttural vocal snarls are utterly gut-ripping and contrast with her majestic, emotionally-rich intonation. It’s one of those songs that suck you straight in, and instantly, you’re drawn into the maelstrom.

The album’s shortest song, ‘Monolith’ is a raging beast of a tune a skull-crushing battering of overloading guitars that comes on like a grunge juggernaut, balancing melody with a density that you feel batter against your chest. ‘Ancestral Recall’ swings between brooding ethereality and raging metal, grace and abrasion, but for the most part, it’s little short of absolutely fucking terrifying, a banshee scream howling into a wall of churning guitar noise that’s utterly punishing.

In contrast to the full-on barrage, there are hints of the goth-folk of early All About Eve on the slower, more sedate ‘Magickal Cost’, and once again, the rich, lilting qualities of Emma’s voice comes to the fore. But when the levee breaks around the midpoint, all hell breaks loose, as multi-layered guitars swerve and bend through a tempest of raging noise and a deluge of percussion. The contrasts, cast simultaneously, are stunning and pack all the impact.

The album’s final cut, ‘The Valley’ is deep, a slow-builder with supple violins teetering hesitantly behind rolling drums and soft swell of clean, echo-soaked guitar. It’s by far the most conventional-sounding song on the album, with the folk-infused rock flavour of Fleetwood Mac being more to the fore than anything remotely alternative – but then the last minute and a half is unbridled sonic annihilation as all of the pent-up fury is unleased.

It’s a fitting final to an absolutely stunning album, an album which explores a broad sonic and emotional range to hit hard in the delivery.

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Southern Lord – 29th September 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

It’s been five years since Wreck appeared on Alternative Tentacles. So what have Unsane been doing in the intervening period? Gazing at their navels, taking up yoga and discovering a serene spirituality as a means of dealing with the anguish of life in the modern world? As if. They’ve been distilling their brutal rage into even more intensely bleak slabs of sonic nihilism. And, naturally, it’s housed in appropriately unsubtle, gore-soaked artwork. Unsane’s album covers are nothing if not distinct: while so many metal album covers which display hematomaniac tendencies are highly stylised and revel in the intended shock value, Unsane’s covers are all the more shocking by view of their clinicality, resembling crime scene photos than works of art. This is in many ways true of the music itself: there’s a functionality, a bluntness about it, and no sense of there being any indulgence or show.

Everything about Sterilize is stark, uncompromising, and connotes post-industrial, post-everything society, the dehumanising effects of merely trying to exist in the capitalist world where everyone gets pushed further and further down for the benefit of the few. It’s the soundtrack to life being sucked from the soul, the sonic encapsulation of desolate fury.

The grey steel assault of ‘Factory’ sets the tone and tempo: screeching feedback whistles through the grey, grain of the guitars and sludgy bass. From thereon in, the ferocious howls of anguish and packed in tight, back-to-back.

The song titles are also functional, direct, descriptive. Again, there’s no fluff, and little joy, to be found around ‘We’re Fucked’, ‘A Slow Reaction’ or ‘Distance’. Everything is paired back to the bare essentials and compacted for maximum impact. This includes the blues-based sound that defines Unsane: it’s crunched up, compressed, stomped into submission, meaning that while there is a certain swing to it, it’s limited to the most concise and precise form.

‘The Grind’ is aptly titled and brings a thunderous deluge of guitar; ‘Aberration’ is built around a simple four-chord trudge; and ‘No Reprieve’ sums up the album as a whole. You don’t listen to Unsane for variety, either across a given album, or their output overall. You listen to Unsane to vent, to experience a relentless viscerality. There’s something almost self-flagellatory about listening to an Unsane album in its entirety. At a certain point, the initial sense of catharsis is replaced by a crushing claustrophobia. This isn’t to say it’s an unpleasant experience, but is indicative of the effect of such sustained intensity. It’s as exhausting, mentally and physically, as the exertions of daily life on the treadmill, a punishment as reward.

When they slow the pace a shade, the weight is turned up, and when they hit a groove, it’s explosive and blistering. The tripwire guitar that stretches its sinews over the sludgy trudge of ‘Lung’ only raises the tension, and closer ‘Avail’ draws a heavy curtain of screaming anguish on proceedings with distorted vocals tearing across a rumbling bassline and savage guitars.

There’s a desperation and urgency about Sterilize which ensures that it crackles from beginning to end. Everything seethes, spits and scrapes and there’s not a moment’s relief. It’s this intensity which makes Sterilize as strong as any Unsane release. It’s mercilessly harrowing, but is ultimately satisfying in a perverse, sadistic sense.

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