Between the Dead
ne of the most enduring, entertaining, and belittled pleasures available to the music critic is the wild comparison. For every one that hits just right there are a hundred tired “x meets y” or “z on acid” phrases, often thrown into shorter reviews to preserve desperately needed space while trying to convey some meaning to the reader. But the reason everyone (writers and reader alike) seem unable to avoid them is mostly because they're just so much fun, especially when you get a good one.
The fine debut full-length from the refreshingly context-free (as opposed to annoyingly obscurantist) Goslings, for example, provides all sorts of angles of approach. We can work from the rock side and describe a track like the monolithic opening dirge “Crow for Day” as sounding like Bardo Pond or Comets On Fire being dragged down into hell by angry demons. Or you can switch and go for comparing the ferocious “Blood A Necklace” to Earth gone (relatively) pop, complete with female singer and something that might be a chorus beneath all the muck. “Brindle” is Jesu minus Broadrick's voice and a proper studio, plus parts of Branca's The Ascension and an eight-track. “Dehlilahia” is anti-Low, as well as starting with an uncanny mockery of the guitars on “Y Control.” And so on. Stylus' own Michael F. Gill described Between the Dead to me as “haunting, ethereal sludge noise... like reverberating mud” before passing it on.
But as enjoyable a way to pass the time as that is, we go scrambling in all different directions because ultimately these comparisons are useless as anything other than shorthand. Max (“Guitars, Other”), Leslie (“Vocals, Other”) and Steve (“Drums, Other”) have managed to strike a fine, difficult, and satisfying balance between structure and noise, ugliness and beauty. They've created a record that possesses both stunning power and a kind of elementally thrilling quality that means that even if Between the Dead didn't rock harder than most metal records, it would still be enthralling just in terms of sheer sound. The production (or lack thereof) is uncredited, but the music bleeds all over the track without ever actually devolving into too much sludge or mess; it's one of the best sounding records of its type you're likely to hear, which means it sounds immaculately scuzzy. The guitar and drums never drown each other out, and even Leslie is always audible, despite the fact that each is throwing off enough distortion to shred a building (check out the white-knuckle, ten minute long “Seed”). Even on the lower-key “Yellow Sky” the sound is surprisingly full and rich—most noise records of this sort fall on their faces when they attempt to quiet things down a little, but “Yellow Sky” works perfectly as a stormcloud-like intermission before “Blood A Necklace” blasts in. Even the bite-sized “Morning Jewel,” a mere minute between two ten-minute behemoths composed of the predictable birdsong, feels perfectly placed.
When I was much younger I remember being struck by a line in an unsigned NME review of Shellac's 1000 Hurts: “not once do the principals lock in and merely admire the pornographic beauty of the noise they make.” It's meant as a compliment, and it applies to the Goslings as well. There are some bands that just sound so good that it's practically a miracle when they make good songs as well, and as ragingly abstract as parts of Between The Dead's 54 minutes can get, you never have any doubts that it will remain as volcanically, batteringly powerful as it is from the very start of “Crow The Day.” They never resort to merely admiring their own work—that’s left to the rest of us.