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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Sludge: Black Sheep Wall - "It Begins Again" (EP)

Those ghost-hunting programs on television can't be real, right? Capturing enough footage in single visits to hotbeds of paranormal interference seems too hit-or-miss to carry a series through multiple episodes, let alone multiple seasons. I still watch them, they still make me walk sideways up a flight of stairs, and I still have a strong belief that ghosts walk by us. But the curiosities don't end at whether or not spirits exist. If I'm feeling this uneasy, what are the dead actually feeling?

If there's a medium between myself (the observer) and the dead (the observed), I'd argue that Black Sheep Wall have laid it to tape. 2012's No Matter Where It Ends was a thunderous chug of thick serum that, for all the abrasion it caused, still managed to coat the throat and numb the pain. What follows on 2013's EP It Begins Again is an icy sheet of nightmarish sludge, stumbling in limbo with one hand in the mist and the other in the soil. All at once even more crushing and holding more beauty than its predecessor, Black Sheep Wall marry the tangible with the fleeting.

Immediately lonely and cavernous, the EP opens with Ancient Fvck, an ill-willed hunt entwined in laughter and panning predation. Quite ominous, not quite pretentious for all its post-blackened elements, the canvas of grief and gray acceptance is haunting and exhausting. It's been ages since I've heard anything so heavy in BOTH sound and theme. Black Sheep Wall find a Clockwork Orange-balance of the synthetic, the organic, and the unsettling, employing vocals both robotic and tortured (inviting along original vocalist Jeff Ventimiglia). The rhythms never sink, but they don't dare try and keep afloat either. The choral accompaniment is utterly chilling, and Ancient Fvck is an early candidate for the most complete sludge track of 2013. Oh, what a bold statement, Seth!

Provider follows with a more subdued vibe, lulled by cavernous chants and lilting, tinny licks. But when that sticky sludge storms in, BSW have us right where they want us. Matted fur is merely collateral damage; bass hits below the belt and the hope-laden licks are knocked down with strong structures and incredible control over instruments. Drums are the backbone, but Black Sheep Wall as a whole are beginning to contemplate life as thick repetition wails and wanes. These pockets of dense, jolting buzz punctuate a black tapestry of fractured of existence. Trust the smack across your lips; it may be the last human contact you'll know.

Screening and analyzing Evangelic Exorcism would be like giving thumbs-up to a funeral. Jesus Christ, these somber keys and empty air lose comfort and succeed admirably in their bid to discover an unsettling tone. But when the clicks greet the wind and offer an inhaled, encompassing warmth, the band's confidence shines and listeners are thrown back. It's wild, considering most bands have to shake and stomp to earn your attention. When the piano relents, thank the white noise for its haunt and comfort. And when your stomach sits warm with smooth reflection, thank the old neighbor lady who spent hours in your living room minimizing the distraction of teenage sex. It's not sludge. In fact, it's quite the opposite. And it's fucking gorgeous from brim to barrel.

This is a step forward. Oh, I love those bands who never change lineups or ideologies or simple sound, but when a band's spark can grow to a steady, glowing ember is when their impact becomes fully realized. Bristling, alive, and eerily adrift, It Begins Again holds all you'd want in a record. Crushing at points, completely somber at others, you'd struggle to find a weak corner. If the wandering dead had a playlist, these three tracks would be on it. You won't say it spans the human experience because half of the human experience is unknown. Perhaps, though, this is what the other side sounds like. Goddamn, THAT'S heavy.

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