Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Arc (Relapse Records, 22 January 2016)
As far back as last November, Relapse Records has been teasing the news that this year would witness a series of four EPs filled with new material from grindcore stalwarts Agoraphobic Nosebleed, the first of which was scheduled to come out in late January. This EP, titled Arc, would run about twenty-five minutes over the course of just three songs.
Surely those of you familiar with the drum-machine-based band’s past output — which includes an album of 100 tracks whose total length doesn’t quite reach twenty-five minutes — will have done a double-take at learning this information, just as I did when I first read the announcement. And surely you’re as curious and eager to hear what they’ve come up with, just as I was. Well Arc has been out a few weeks by now, so step right this way and let’s explore.
I’ll be honest — when I first heard this band, which came by way of tracks on Relapse CD samplers back in the late 90s or early 00s, I wasn’t terribly impressed. The arrangements were a bit too spastic, all over the place, and the overall sound was just too inorganic for my taste. The first time I found myself enjoying something they’d done was when I heard a song (“Agorapocalypse Now,” also by way of a label sampler) from 2009’s Agorapocalypse. I actually ended up buying that album, because (to the dismay of some critics) it featured something like actual song structures and dynamics, while still maintaining many of the band’s hallmark elements, an interesting combination that really grew on me.
As far as this newly released EP is concerned, though — just throw any and all preconceived notions straight out the window. It’s my understanding that each of their upcoming releases will be chiefly the product of one specific band member’s own style and influences, and Arc is predominantly the brainchild of Katherine Katz, formerly of sludge/doom band Salome, who has been one of ANb‘s vocalists since the aforementioned Agorapocalypse. As you may have guessed by now, the three songs presented here showcase a far slower and heavier side of the band than what you’ve ever experienced before.
The vocals here are provided entirely by Katz, mostly in a traditional “Eyehategod” sort of southern sludge/hardcore style, but often doubled for emphasis in a unearthly deep roar. Peppered with a few samples relating to mental health issues (and the historic inadequacy of the treatment thereof), the lyrical mood of this EP perfectly matches its vocal delivery style — simultaneously tormented and pissed-off, emotional and discontent. Musically, we’re treated to a bunch of stoner/sludge-flavored chunky riffs that occasionally almost sound like they were lifted from an old Sabbath record — naturally, because every band who has ever trodden into doomy territory has had that happen innumerable times. And as someone whose skin typically begins to crawl at the slightest hint of artificial drums, I feel like I also need to address THAT elephant in the room. But honestly, when compared with the horribly over-processed sound most modern death metal bands like to employ nowadays, the programmed percussion on this recording actually seems to have had extra care taken to make it sound as natural as possible, so I can’t even complain about that.
Given the vast difference between this material and what listeners have come to expect from Agoraphobic Nosebleed, I suppose this could be considered rather experimental — and perhaps it can be left up to those listeners to decide whether or not the experiment has been a success. Since nothing here necessarily represents uncharted territory for the genre, the big question would be whether this release would be noteworthy if it didn’t come from an already well-established band. In the opinion of this reviewer — being far more likely to gravitate towards sludge/doom than grindcore anyway — I found this to be a very enjoyable listen, and if this were my first introduction to a new band, I’d definitely peg them as worth keeping an eye on to see where they go from here. Since it isn’t, though, I’m equally curious to see what might lie ahead — what other unexpected twists and turns might be in store for us through the rest of the EPs in this series.
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