Out of a Center Which is Neither Dead or Alive
(At A Loss Records)
One of the big criticisms waged against metal is its bombast, especially in the thematic department, but really I don't know what the complaint is all about. Weenie old college rock is so stretched thin that almost any fumbling attempt will fit under its banner, in effect, knocking material out of the pillars on which rock stars stand, which sounds good in an Socialism 101 - we are the world kinda way, but what it really means that our standards are diminishing, and our music will eventually devolve into an audio version of Reality TV. I'm OK with that, mind you, I actually like reality TV, but I don't want to think that all entertainment will be ferreted down this dead end road that has boring old me watching at the terminus. I want to think there is still some John Ford sky to be filmed, some sprawling epics to be penned and gigantic large scale metal mayhem to be enacted like Thor's Technicolor hammer.
Hail the cold blast from Chicago in the form of Minsk, a quartet who takes the organic metal sound of Tool and whatnot, and filters it through the charcoal filter of doom, rendering upon the land a nuclear winter hum and a thousand coyote howls in the eternal night. Minsk latches onto the death/black metal grunt and transforms it to an inhuman howl on their latest epic Out of a Center Which is Neither Dead or Alive, an album as over the top as its title. The guitar riffs are tsunami-huge battering your ears on the opening track "Narcotics and Dissecting Knives" eventually building up in ferocity until the earth collapses around you in an almost silent space invasion whisper 10 minutes later. Can your cardigan clad, still-skates-sometimes-but-not-like-i-used-to, funny-name band do that? I think not.
"Holy Flower of the Northstar" continues this assault in what I can only call transformer-breakdown power metal. That's the vibe I get out of this stuff, like there are giant arcs of sheer electricity flaring off these guys and I like it. On their myspace site, they mention Swans as an influence, and I can totally hear it. Juggernaut is the word often used, but I am picturing the actual Iron Man described by Grandpa Ozzy ages ago, destroying the people he once saved like Godzilla with a Flying V.
These guys have a thing with ominous bells and cymbal laden ambiance, like that which opens the greet-your-apocalypse dark pastorale "Three Hours." I love these slow jams that doom guys do, its really breathtaking.and then eventually builds up over time like a volcano does to erupt all over everything. A similar structure takes shape in the acoustic-to-laser-cannon ascension on "Bloodletting and Forgetting." It's all in the dynamics, in the glacial development of the songs, the scale that takes you out of time and transports you, like music is supposed to do. A surprising addition is a horn section opening "Whisp of Tow" the final movement of this symphony at the end of time. Nothing has more beef than a horn section when used properly, I think more metal bands should use them. I mean, the instruments themselves are metal. Here its gives the doom an old world almost Arabic flavor without giving way entirely into exoticism. Its the kind of chain-clanging, horn of Gabriel, cosmic death knell you can really curl up with. It even has chants in it. I'm not being glib, I think this stuff is awesome. What seperates Minsk from the pack doing this elongated thing is that the mood and vibe is never sacrificed for the sake of displays of pointless guitar wizardry or overwrought vocal fireworks. The chops are there, but they interlock perfectly in this unstoppable solar flare of a record.
So what I guess I'm saying is that this album may not be for everyone. If your tastes lie in having life diced up and served cold like a sushi plate, then maybe you should scurry along then, but if you get a hankering for the steamy meat of the end of the world, grilled over a smoldering earthquake chasm, then this might just be your cup of tea.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com