ike many people who write about music, I’m proud to admit I have an exeptionally large (or, if you prefer, exceptionally soft) soft spot for noise in all its varieties – from the unapologetic, playful noise of the Boredoms to the punishing shred of Napalm Death – even if I have yet to scale the sheer and forbidding cliffs of Metal Machine Music. This is something I’m sure I would’ve done by now, surely, if I expected some revelatory experience to emerge from all those flicking tongues of squall I heard sometimes through cheap earphones, sometimes through cheap speakers in my friend’s car on the way to high school (on a scratchy tape along with subpar, jokey shock-value stuff like Herb Alpert and Meco’s misleadingly titled “Galactic Funk” disco rendition of the Star Wars theme). What I heard told me that nothing of the sort had any reason whatsoever to arrive, but that didn’t stop me from thinking, on some days, that it was the only record that mattered, that all music had some sort of responsibility to sound, at least some of the time, like this.
If Metal Machine Music excited me and made me hear music differently, if Sonic Youth, Minor Threat, and Godflesh took a bit of this thrill and brought me to variations on some impossible-to-replicate ecstatic state I thought I’d never see again due to the law of diminishing returns (even the craziest, most fucked-up free jazz never sounds quite the same the next time you send the record around under the needle, it’s sad to know), Pageninetynine have brought this feeling back – or at least a bit of it – with Document #8, one of the meanest, most compelling punk records I’ve heard in a long time. That they’re able to resurrect the bite and blast we all remember the first time we fully heard the fantastically angry snarl of punk is a stunning achievement: here, I speak neither of the historically lauded punks like Clash or Sex Pistols or even Crass nor their cartoonish crown-of-spikes predecessors; nor any historically important but muffled bootleg of the Metallic K.O. stripe that required some conscious act of reconstruction to immerse oneself in; nor those metal or grindcore bands whose heft or superhuman speed is best appreciated from a distance. I speak of the shit that, no joke, made us more afraid than anything at first. This is that kind of album.
“In Love With an Apparition” is preceded by a soundbite from a live performance that sums up the band’s attitude towards the oft-debated ethos of punk rock. Passion is placed foremost, which may draw some skepticism (especially in this era), but when the song is finally underway, there’s no doubt about the sloppy, ferocious brilliance on display. A raw tumult of power chords, frenetic drums, and strained shouting soon gives way to a curiously subdued descending guitar line, a not-quite-martial beat, and handclaps. The barked, screamed vocals, when they return, tear everything apart, as a lengthy buildup gives birth to a series of pained climaxes. One gets the feeling that the pure noise elements of bands like the Locust, Angel Hair, or Born Against are given a prismatic treatment; somehow, they’re run through all their possible permutations, and the end result (I feel like I’m listening to three hardcore bands’ most powerful moments at once) is staggering.
“Your Face is a Rape Scene” begins with another staggering blast of noise, then descends into a quietly storming, almost delicate middle section of blossoming guitar effects, a pulsing bassline, and other tape effects before feedback and staggered screams kick in again, before a direct segue to the straightforward, warp-speed, metal-tinged “Life in a Box.” “We Left as Skeletons” manages to keep up the momentum, beginning at an outright level of chaos that is flirted with until guitars flame out and the bass surges in volume. Everything finally flags into a desperate, elegiac wind-down that’s over much too soon.
The record’s second side, after an appropriate enough plea to let those who think you’re shit know you think they’re shit (I’m paraphrasing slightly), features the malevolent onslaught of “Punk Rock in the Wrong Hands,” which I surmise is an attack on nu-metal’s stance of pure evil with some righteous vengeance that puts its silly theatrics to shame; unfortunately, “The Ballad of Circling Vultures” is a bit contrived in its horror-flick pacing: a lurching bassline and some ominous feedback, then a caustic storm of indecipherable noise, then another few segments of seemingly unrelated noisy bits does not a good song make: it’s a trick the band seemed to wear out on the somewhat inferior Document #5, but, just as things get predictable, the operatic chord progression they take it through redeems things more than a bit, as does a surprising shift to an atmospheric, near-Eastern purgatory of dual drums and clean guitar.
“The Hollowed Out Chest of a Dead Horse” follows immediately afterward with an equally shocking shift to uplifting, nearly Don-Caballero-esque drum flurry and circular guitar bliss that ends in gruesome, epic psychedelia. Indeed, if Pageninetynine can follow this brief and furious record up with something of this level (which rumor has it that their related band, City of Caterpillar, MBV guitar effects and all, has managed to do with a soon-to-be-released LP), I’m even more excited at the prospect of hearing it than I am at this. May it be what Nietzsche called the rise of new values after everything else has been, y’know, laid to waste.
Reviewed by: Chris Smith
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01
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