Burnt By The Riff: Down, Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow

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Photo credited to Steve Bolding

Down are one of those bands inextricably linked to where they are from; Sepultura are from Brazil, Guns n’ Roses from LA, and Down are from New Orleans. I’ve not been there (yet), but its reputation precedes it, and whenever I hear Down I get that humid, sludgy vibe. Like its predecessor NOLA, Down II: A Bustle In Your Hedgerow, despite being a very listenable album, for my money, has always worked best in the summer.

Full of riffs that sweat, mellow and simmered acoustic interludes and a squealing, gospel–like Hammond on Stained Glass Cross, A Bustle In Your Hedgerow has a sense of that southern character, and a big blues influence flows through this album like the Mississippi taking its course. There is something organic, earthy, natural about Down – they have the old rock and old blues feel, brewed into heavy songs. I hear the sounds of nature rather than the sounds of the city when I listen to this, and that’s the best place to listen to it too.

Lyrically it is an album of reflection, looking to the errors of the past and their current consequences, and although these are explicitly those of Phil Anselmo, they serve to create a universal feeling of reflection and appraisal, and in turn a shared melancholy. An album for the moment when the work is done but the day isn’t.

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Violator, Depeche Mode

Note from Editor (because that’s what I am now):

A bit like being in a band, a lot of people like the idea of being a writer, but don’t really realise how much goes into it. I’ve asked a few people before if they’re interested, but nothing’s ever come of it. Until now. Having recently enjoyed some of Adam’s writing, I felt the time to expand, to march, to tool up, had come. This is the first contributed article for Mathematical Deathgrind from France. Gaze and rejoice.

Violator cover

Image courtesy of Mute Records

Having quite the melancholic temperament, it isn’t really radical of me to say that Depeche Mode’s Violator has long been one of my favourite purchases. A black cocktail of guilt, lust and misery that fuses electronica, pop, and rock, it shines from start to finish, propped up by Dave Gahan’s soothing cry and Martin Gore’s simplistic (yet heartfelt) song–writing.

Though it creeps in at the beginning with the menacingly upbeat World in My Eyes, a drone of sexual egotism, it ends with harsh reflection on Clean. It’s a journey that parallels the path many of us take through pleasure; at first a decadent rush, and then a sickly kind of satiation, questioning whether the piggish amounts of dopamine was worth it (although usually, yes.)

Gahan may sing with a robotic intonation, but it never feels like anything he says is half–arsed, especially on Clean. His sonorous confession of addiction feels all the more devastating when you realise how close he came to death not long after the album’s release.

The most well–known song off the album is Personal Jesus, which can either be read as a salute to ever–trusting friendships, or as an examination of unhealthy fixations within relationships. There’s a Halloween feel to it, with harsh keyboards punctuated with screeching guitar; it wouldn’t feel out of place on an Oingo Boingo album. Whatever way you read it, Personal Jesus is an excellent marching anthem, blessed with a hook that will be drummed onto every car dashboard, for now and forever.

Love and obsession are often entwined in an awkward ball of string. The subjects of many of the songs, in particular Halo, are often treated with a reverence, placed on a pedestal. Some many find this troubling, but I find it an honest window into how many intense romances play out. And though it is infinitely less mopey, Auden’s The More Loving One comes to mind:

If equal affection cannot be
Let the more loving one be me.

Whilst this mantra seems to be the party line, there is (thankfully) a balance. If Personal Jesus is the creepy love song, then Enjoy the Silence is the beautiful one, an ode to the comfortability of not having to say anything within the confines of genuine love. It is a curiously empowering song that remains my favourite on the album, and one that I can rely on to bring me back to reality when times are rough.

There is an intoxicating feel to Violator­; as if one man’s gloom is pouring over you, but not enough to drag you down with him. It’s a chant that validates your wavering happiness and can make grasping the duvet after a break–up (or all manner of other unspecified miseries) become a cathartic experience. It taps into the weeping adolescent in all of us, where sadness can be a grandiloquent display, and also a therapeutic release.

It’s been 25 years since Violator was released, and unlike some of Depeche Mode’s other releases, such as the proto–industrial People are People or the infuriating Just Can’t Get Enough, the songs on Violator have not been affected by the dusty punches of Father Time. It serves as the evolution between the gothic sub–cultures of the 1980s, and the screeching dirges of the 1990s. Here, Depeche Mode essentially act as a suited up predecessor to Trent Reznor (and sounds better for it.)

So, if you’re looking for classics you may have missed the first time round, I cannot recommend the dirge and dance of Violator enough.

– Adam Hofmeister, 18/08/15

RIFFS TO GIVE YOU SUNBURN: TORCHE, HARMONICRAFT

Perfectly illustrated by John Santos’ artwork of giant flying salamander things barfing up rainbows (I mean, just look at it), Harmonicraft is the aural equivalent of sunshine, blue skies, running around outside revelling in the smell of freshly–cut grass and having a great time. Happiness in heavy metal is a weird and wonderful concept; although there is heavy music about positivity (see: posicore), it’s very rare that it actually sounds positive, i.e. happy. Torche do. This is heavy metal, but not as we know it.

Blending pop with heavy metal, Harmonicraft is fun, upbeat and sludgy as a team of sloths dredging a lake of tar (imagine that). Many of the riffs channel absolute euphoria, particularly Solitary Traveller, which I hope somebody puts on within earshot as the greatest moment in my life takes place, whatever/whenever that may be, or if it happens (which I suppose it has to, by definition). The lyrics I can make out bound along with irreverence and fun, like the shouts of ‘sucker!’ in Roaming or song titles like Kiss Me Dudely.

This album is quite literally amazing; I put it on, 18 months after first hearing it, and still can’t believe what’s coming out of the speakers. Its upbeat nature, boundless energy and commitment to having a good time suit those days with endless blue skies and the smell of freshly–cut grass perfectly.

Killing Your Darlings: Gridlink, Longhena

Gridlink Longhena cover art

Seemingly held in awe by all, I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about Gridlink. When their third and final album Longhena came out it was instantly declared by all who reviewed it (which was only, and was only ever going to be, a small segment of the music press) as a simultaneously genre–defining and expanding swansong. This was in addition to it being an artistic statement on going out in style, with guitarist Takafumi Matsubara no longer able to play due to nerve damage in his left hand. I gave it a listen, and thought it sounded like nearly every other grind album. Longhena was extreme, and credit due where credit’s due, Gridlink could really play, but a masterpiece that does not make. This was around a year and a half ago, and I remember having a swift and strong reaction to it; consequently, it seems like a good place to start. This’ll be easy, I thought. I hit the nail on the head when I first heard them. Let’s take on this emperor in new clothes, this one trick mule, this overrated ‘masterpiece’, Longhena.

 

First track Constant Autumn begins with a syncopated, stuttering guitar riff. The chord progression at 1.05 is gripping. A modification of the intro riff enters at 1.22. It ends with violins. The lyrics are about estrangement from a loved one;

I have pictures – of who we once were
That life is over – that time is past.

First track down, five preconceptions of stereotypical grind blown out of the water. I mean, distinctive riffs? Chord progressions? Violins? Next track The Last Raven is a whirlwind of juddering riffs and drumming. Third track Thirst Watcher, centring around pulsing arpeggios and gliding strings, is a sudden introduction of space. I’m beginning to think I might have been wrong, and that somewhere along the way, I’ve confused Gridlink with something or someone else, because this is one of its own bizarre kind.

The vocals are unintelligible, but the lyrics are strikingly poetic, working in dense, multi–sensory imagery, and abounding with references to wounds. Rather than being another grind band obsessed with gore, here physical wounding is equated to the everyday deaths we all go through and submissively endure under catatonic surrender, rather than being drawn from grind’s more traditional themes of death, violent death, violence, war, oppression, political injustice, genocide, more violence, more death. A recurring motif is the use of physical violence as a metaphor for the collapse of a relationship, such as in Chalk Maple;

There’s history in the broken pieces
That are quickly reattached
There’s memories soaked in gasoline that I can’t forget.

I’m not sure how clean vocals would work with this kind of music, but in a way it’s a shame that lyrics of this quality are totally incomprehensible, the timbre of the screaming generally varying between ‘I am in pain’ and ‘I am demented’ (let’s not confuse the two, now). For example, alongside lacerating riffs, this is a segment of the lyrics in Taibas­ :

The annual reopening of wounds
Of a heart poured into the desert
And its address book of ghosts.

In the pursuit of being extreme for the sake of being extreme, a lot of grind ends up nullifying itself. If it’s all blinding anger, then there’s no insight. Gridlink possess range and go for something deeper than this. However, this album is something deeper than just a blast of noise or energy – and it’s weirder than that too. It helps that that guitarist Matsubara, bass guitarist Teddy Patterson and drummer Bryan Fajardo are technically proficient cats who grind head and shoulders above the pack, and although Matsubara can shred, and does so with lots of screeching, raw lines, he’s able to do so with a well–balanced beauty:beast ratio. In particular, title track Longhena has a great, jarring chord progression, and closing number Look To The Windward opens with a hell of a riff, with a violin at end accompanying the lines

Strangers forever
Cross that bridge
Look to windward
Go on alone.

I’ll usually put on a grind album with the intention of it being a blast of energy, and although ‘beautiful’ would be an overstatement, for grind, this is, well, kinda sensitive to just be that. Grind doesn’t tend to inspire reflection, firstly because it tends to be so short–lived, and secondly because it’s unintelligible. There were moments where I just didn’t know if there was anything for me to say, such as the 29 second–long Wartime Exception Law 205, which was over before I could think of anything insightful, let alone write anything down. Longhena does inspire reflection, even before understanding (well, reading) the lyrics. It’s catchy, well–written, and dare I say it, musical.

I’m not sure now why I didn’t like Longhena when I first heard it; I really must have confused it with another piece of music. Seeing how vocalist Jon Chang is also in Discordant Axis, who I didn’t understand either, maybe that’s where the wires were crossed. I can see why nobody had a bad word for Longhena; it is really is genre–defining and expanding. Music Valhalla awaits it.