Biipiigwan – Nibaak EP (Handshake Inc., 27 February 2012)
Man, what a horrendously ugly day this has been. As I begin writing this review, I’ve been at work for over seven hours already, and my feet are STILL cold and damp from traipsing through the streets of downtown Pittsburgh during a deluge of Noachian proportions, after getting off the bus this morning.
If they ever published a list of ways to make being at work less miserable, I can guarantee “walk around with wet socks all day” will not be anywhere on that list.
Nevertheless, regular readers of this blog have probably figured out by now — an ugly day calls for some ugly music! (Very observant regular readers may also have noticed that ANY day can benefit from some ugliness, regardless of the weather!)
So to help me along today, I’ve turned to some new friends, whom I discovered two weeks ago when they came to play a show here from their native Ontario. The band is called Biipiigwan (don’t worry, it’s easier to pronounce than it is to spell — and in fact it isn’t really that hard to spell either — drummer Steve Vargas informed me that the double “i” sounds like an “e”, so just say “BEE PEEG wahn“), and their newest release is an EP called Nibaak (again, the “i” sounds like an “e”, so that’s “NEE bawk“).
Now that we got all that out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the actual music. I’ve already mentioned that it’s ugly, but that isn’t nearly descriptive enough — this is grimy, sludgey, filthy, and soul-wrenchingly painful stuff. Plus, you can listen to it for free or download it for any price you choose. Honestly, what more could you ask for?
Nibaak consists of three tracks, for a total running time of just under fifteen minutes. Over the course of that quarter of an hour, you will find yourself transported to a horribly dark and oppressive place — one which you might as well give up hope of ever returning from, although you’ll find the soundtrack is so incredible, you probably won’t ever want to leave.
Opening track “Rodentia” really sets the tone for the EP, snarling just like you might expect, with a title like that. There’s plenty of dynamic and temporal contrast — at times Vargas attacks the drums with a crazed fury, complementing the buzzing riffs of guitarists Michael Shrives, Musqwaunquot Rice, and bassist Dennis Scale; elsewhere the sound seems to withdraw somewhat into itself, leaving more breathing room in the sonic spectrum. This is particularly noticeable about a minute and a half from the end, where the song really winds down to a crawl — lulling the listener into a false sense of security, while in actuality the band is just building up energy like a coiled snake ready to strike — which it then does, letting out all the pent-up aggression and venom over the final moments.
Building upon the same theme of contrasts, but in precisely the opposite way, “Kingmaker” uses layers of guitars and layers of voices (by the way, in addition to Rice and Shrives, the CD cover also credits four additional individuals as “vocal support”), and shimmering cymbals reverberating over it all, to create a feeling of oversaturation and warmth. That isn’t to say the vocals sound any less harsh, or that the song’s message comes across as any less scathing. But the overall feeling on this track is markedly different from its predecessor: here, when the music slows, it becomes distinctly more powerful — thunderous and heavy — while the faster parts tend to exude more of a lightness.
Finally, the title track “Nibaak” combines everything that has led up to this point and amplified each aspect. The slow, heavy parts are slower and heavier; the faster, frenzied parts are more explosive and intense. And the vocals have become particularly primal and urgent: when Musqie bellows out the song’s title near the end, it seems to be emanating not from the bottom of his lungs, but rather from much deeper — perhaps from the very bowels of his spirit.
At the end of it all, the song becomes completely drowned in a massive ocean of feedback, and it feels like a welcome relief from whatever pain and torment that had existed in the world.
You can listen to (or download) the Nibaak EP here:
If you like what you hear, I’d also suggest checking out the earlier God’s Hooks album:
Both recordings are also available on CD if you visit the Biipiigwan webstore.
As an added bonus, here’s some video of the band’s performance of the title track from last month, when they were at the Mr. Roboto Project in Pittsburgh.
It may be worth noting, the line-up during this recent American tour was slightly different than that on the recording; the lead guitarist/vocalist and the drummer are the same, but the second guitarist and bassist have both been replaced by a friend of the band, Mike Raymond, who played a regular guitar but split the signal between a guitar amp and a bass amp.
Despite the low quality of the video — as you can see, the color is pretty washed-out — the sound isn’t completely terrible, and it will at least give you an idea of the ferocity these guys can produce in a live setting…