Album: Icarus, The Sunclimber
Label: Eyes of Sound
Reviewed this for LOBF. It's suitably immense.
From the wilds of Cumbria, a rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born…
Excuse the clumsy mix of mythography but thus comes Icarus, The Sunclimber the new record from Manatees, Carlisle’s finest (ok, only) export of chthonic sludgecore: a monumental album, roaring with ambition and a real sense of career-defining poise. How do you take on the dark, dying art of sludgecore, subvert it and give it new life? Well, you might start with something like this…
Manatees, a three piece consisting of Alex, Paul and Greg have been around since 2005. I missed their first record, called either The Forever Ending Jitter Quest Of Slow Hand Chuckle Walker: An Introduction to The Manatee or simply Untitled depending on your RSI worries. Looking back, Untitled in itself was a hugely ambitious album, full of sprawling epics, mining the same whiteout industrial soundscapes of Isis – but always with a flabbier, more chaotic bottom end, that at times threatened to blow the sound apart. They also had a neat line in queasy ambient passages – passages that threatened the breakup of the ground, something unpleasant dragging at your ankles… The UK doesn’t exactly have a sludgecore scene as such (Bossk, I guess, and the sinister emanations of Moss from the South Coast apart) but here was a band taking on the scene overlords at their own game – think the mighty Melvins or Eyehategod, dredging themselves out of the Louisiana bayous, the totemic scene figureheads of the Neur/Isis axis – and adding something primeval and rock-haunted.
The second record was an EP - (clears throat) We Are Going To Track Down and Kill Vintage Claytahhh, The Beard Burning Bastard, a more subtle affair – at times sounding stately and grand like latter period Earth. But there was still that entropic edge to them – notably on ‘The Pulp Cut’ which featured a moaning, raging Eugene from Oxbow, and ‘The Melee Cut’, a huge slice of end-of-the-world metal that threatened to collapse under its own weight. As it was a few people got a bit sniffy at the (slight) change of direction. They can rest easy.
And so we have arrived at Icarus, The Sunclimber. It’s a return to Untitled and then some: Untitled squared, hectared. It’s a bestial thug of an album: long, brutal, draining, sludgy. It uses the myth of Icarus – a myth so burned into our brains it has the impact of a revealed truth – to fight and fuck with the genre of sludgecore. Sludgecore, as the name so fruitfully describes, is supposed to be arduous, gruelling – it’s a style you wade against, battle through – but Icarus, The Sunclimber pulls against the strictures of the genre, throws them off. ‘Of Wax and Wing’, the opening track, lurches into life with an ominous bass line. It quickly descends into a blare of feedback and raw throat screams before disappearing as it soon as it came. ‘The Sunclimber’, the first of two 10-minute plus tracks, bleeds into existence, a huge – and yes sludgy – yawing chasm of a riff giving way to an almost tribal drum pattern. They sound at their most Isis-like about now. But it doesn’t long as the track broadens out into an ambient acoustic dirge that I assume is meant to soundtrack the flight of Icarus as he tests his new wings, soon to become enraptured with them and fatefully hubristic…
‘Hyperion Altitude’ is the most obviously metal-structured track on the album: another monolithic riff over a chopping, thudding bass line; yet the song crashes into ‘Untitled’, which feels like the beginning of a huge fall. It’s a sheet metal crisis of squalling guitars and plague-drums, the latter sounding like they’re being played on a coffin lid… The vocals are at there most anguished and raw here, and the track comes under so much pressure it genuinely feels close to splitting apart – the very fabric of the sound pushed to some kind of sonic limit. It’s a remarkable thing and it’ll be intriguing to see if they can carry it off live.
‘False Sun’ begins on a portentous acoustic note, yet always with that sense of something seething underneath. A sky-wide riff soon comes to dominate the track – sounding for all the world like blistered skin, or a plague of insects. ‘Out of the Sky, Into The Gutter’ – the album’s climax and a 12-minute colossus - is the biggest and most impressive thing they’ve recorded to date. It’s vast, and hugely emotive, with singer Alex Macarte repeating the mantric ‘not where they belong’ over a churning maelstrom of bottom end. It’s a huge statement of intent, epic and ambitious. It takes the tight chains of sludgecore and runs with them – will Neurosis or Isis ever release anything this powerful and this heavy again? I doubt it. Perversely, Manatees have fought against the earthbound drag of genre and the gravid heft of the Icarus myth and made them soar. Fabulous.
Download: Manatees - Hyperion Altitude
FR (image by daddsy)
The below review is now up at LOBF. I feel like I didn't quite do We Were Promised Jetpacks but no real matter, their time will come.
There was a shard-sharp moment during this gig when everything that Frightened Rabbit stand for was frozen into a blinkless instant of time. The band had left the stage after a crazed hour of redrawing the sainted contours of The Midnight Organ Fight and in that low mumbling hum before the encore Scott Hutchinson had evidently snuck back out with an acoustic guitar. I heard him before I saw him - the first strains of ‘Poke’ ‘poke at my iris, why can’t I cry about this’ - and sought out the source of the sound. Once it became apparent that he was at the lip of the stage, alone and washed in blue light, a total silence fell across the room - it bred, the way noise does sometimes, quickly enveloping everyone. I’ve seen reverence at gigs before but this was something else, a giving over, an open gesture of respect for the song and for Hutchinson’s lyrics. Whatever the reason for this - and it might just be something as simple as an honest band writing superbly well about the universal theme of feeling like shit, mostly - Frightened Rabbit have dug their way into people’s hearts. It’s an immense thing to behold.
There had been an odd humid haze about London all day, a softened focus. St. Pancras Station, always looming, looked awry, tilted at an awkward angle - it dragged the eye upwards; the rest of Kings Cross by contrast, always a haunt of street-babblers and wall-eyed nasties was seething, crouched. In the heat it was like a hair-clogged plughole. It was almost a relief to get into the gothic splendour of The Scala…
We Were Promised Jetpacks looked wired up there, tense. And so young. I assume this was the biggest place they’d played up until now. I suspect it won’t be for long. They sounded huge, starting with ‘Keeping Warm’ - the eight-minute epic from their soon-to-be-released debut album. They followed it with their new single, ‘Quiet Little Voices’ which is a great shovel of a song with Adam Thompson roaring out the chorus with real passion. It was a common theme, and you get the sense that this band really means it. There’s a point during ‘Thunder and Lightning’ where Thompson backs off from the mic and bellows ‘your body was black and blue’ and he’s shaking with the delivery of it and looks like he might buckle under the weight of the thing. The effect on the crowd is palpable and by the end of their set they get a dirty great roar of approval.
By the time Frightened Rabbit came on the Scala had filled to bursting and the heat had nearly doubled. You could feel it rising from the concrete floors. The band started with ‘I Feel Better’ from The Midnight Organ Fight and to be honest the sound wasn’t quite there. But the initial moments were all about the response, and at the end of ‘Fast Blood’ which again sounded a little thin, you could see from the band’s reaction that this was a special moment, the end of a special era. Hutchinson announced that this was the biggest crowd that had ever come out to see them and that, as it was almost exactly a year since the release of …Organ Fight, they were celebrating.
They proceeded to play pretty much the entire record, most of which was at an odd sort of half-tempo, with Scott and his bearish brother seeming to live every minute of every track. Which I guess is a kind of perfect representation of what Frightened Rabbit are - a ramshackle, dishevelled, waywardly talented band making raw, honest music into which people seem to be able insert themselves wholly, carelessly. And Scott Hutchinson is the personification of this: a shambling figure, yet a man who seems to inspire a rare kind of warmth. And when ‘The Modern Leper’ had come and gone, and ‘Floating in the Forth’ - to date, the single most uplifting suicide song I can think of - had filled the air with its pulsing warmth there was such a sense of camaraderie in the air that the band could seriously have done anything and it wouldn’t have mattered. What they did do was to play two tracks from Sings The Greys (’The Greys’ and ‘Square 9′) and proceeded to sound the best they had done all night and became, for a time, a fucking huge rock band.
Then came the time of ‘Poke’ and everything reached a perfect sense of peace. We were thanked again for coming out, and for supporting the band through everything. We were even thanked for being nicer than a London crowd ever should be. We know that Hutchinson has been off writing the new record at a sea-side house in Fife, and we can probably infer that the collective exorcism of The Midnight Organ Fight is now complete. It’s time to move on and now I guess we wait for what comes next… They finish, inevitably, with ‘Keep Yourself Warm’ and again they sound immense - especially Grant Hutchinson, belting at his kit like a raging animal. It’s been a triumphant evening and it’s impossible not to feel happy for the band. The roar that comes as they leave the stage for the final time mingles with all that trapped heat and is carried out through the doors into the waiting fists of the Pentonville Road.
Artist: Papier Tigre
Album: The Beginning and End of Now
Label: Collectiv Effervesence
My knowledge of the French post-hardcore scene is minimal at best, but I was passed this a few weeks back and am intrigued. Papier Tigre are a bass-less three piece from Nantes, and this is their second album - recorded at no less a studio than Iain Burgess' Black Box studios, were Steve Albini has been a fixture in the past with Big Black and R*peman. Which should give you some idea of the band's sound: a tight, wiry, intelligent assault on hardcore, pitched somewhere between Fugazi and the more pop-leaning swells of Walter Schriefels' Quicksand - and despite the lack of a bass player they often pack the bottom-end punch of Helmet. So you might argue that this has something of a derivative sound to some extent, but I can't think of anyone pulling this stuff off at present, and with such obvious skill. 'A Killer Gets Ready', the song below, is a miniature hardcore symphony - building on a queasy spiralling riff into a seething climax of guitars with drummer Pierre Antoine Parois sounding particularly inventive and intense. The album is out on April 19th and is well worth tracking down.
Also, my review of the new Obits record is up at LOBF. I wanted to like this more than I did - Rick Froberg has such a history...But, well perhaps I was a bit harsh on it and the last thing the record needs is fuckers like me whinging on about how it's not as good Drive Like Jehu - or Hot Snakes for that matter - but there you are. There are some cracking tracks on the album though, and the Animals/Sonics/psychobilly sound Obits are mining seems to me one they can pick up and run with so who knows what's going to come in the future?
Download: Papier Tigre - A Killer Gets Ready
Download: Obits - Fake Kinkade