Author: Bloodshot Grub
Artist: Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Label: Relapse Records
The first time I heard Salome’s landmark album Terminal, I was working a graveyard shift for a security company, driving around the city in the biting cold of January listening to metal on the company car’s shitty sound system. I was still fairly new to sludge and what I had heard focused a great deal on the thickness of the sound, guitars downtuned and multitracked and sent through fuzz and distortion pedals, delays and reverbs, and probably several simultaneous tube amps and cabinets. Terminal, in contrast, was bone dry. One guitar, minimal effects, no bass, drums, and Katherine Katz, whom I had heard before on Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Agorapocalypse. The sparseness of the production combined with the relentlessly punishing and nihilistic music was unlike anything I had heard before, and over the years it became one of my favorite albums. Having only a few years prior come out of the bleakest period in my life, one characterized by addiction and severe mental illness, the album’s emotional tenor, however bleak, was very comforting.
Unfortunately, that was to be the band’s final output. I was always more grateful to have the one album (and the EP and their two splits) than I was sad that there wouldn’t be any more, but more Salome is nevertheless something I’ve always desired. That’s not what this is; Kat’s “solo” album with Agoraphobic Nosebleed is distinct from Terminal in style, although in many ways it scratches the same itch. It’s not Salome reborn, but it’s every bit as good.
For those not already aware, Arc is the first in a series of Agoraphobic Nosebleed EPs showcasing the talents and influences of each of the band’s members. I was not expecting to enjoy this EP as much as Terminal. I knew it was not intended as a continuation of Salome, and other reviews I had read indicated a prevalence of stoner influence, a genre I enjoy but that I’m not nearly as interested in as in the kind of dry, punishing, and uncompromising sludge found on Terminal. The riffs do indeed draw deep from the well of Sabbath, adding to that a bit of a southern drawl, but they’re taken far beyond their typical resin-encrusted boundaries and forged into weapons. But then there’s the EP’s third track, “Gnaw,” which bypasses those conventions and delves fully into the visceral, nameless brutality that characterizes Salome, Indian, and Lord Mantis.
It’s an EP, landing just shy of a half-hour, but you’ll not find me complaining about the length. Arc feels exactly as long as it needs to be. When it ends, I feel not only satiated, but utterly exhausted. In a way, it’s as long as any full-length, as there is a refractory period after listening during which I am unwilling to press play on whatever album I have queued up next, and the silence feels like an extension of the album’s bleak conclusion.
As to the EP’s central figure, nothing I can write can adequately convey Kat’s vocal performance. The traditional thesaurus of metal adjectives, with words like “hellish,” “anguished,” “terrifying”… falls far short. She is nothing less than a force of nature.
The album’s one weakness is the percussion, sourced from one of the staples of of Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s music: the drum machine. ANb has always been plenty adept with the drum machine, treating it as a fully-fledged instrument with its own unique capabilities. It is not at all ineffective on Arc, having been thoughtfully and meticulously programmed to deliver blunt impact and gravity enough to drives the hammer swing of the riffs. But it remains unavoidably mechanistic, and while that’s a perfectly valid musical trait to explore, it’s not the most fitting one for such a personal album.
There’s so much more about this EP that I’d like to say, but the unexpected joys and terrors of Arc are something that should not be spoiled. All I can offer is my highest recommendation to give this music your time and attention.
- Bloodshot Grub