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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday Sludge: MAKE - "Trephine"

tre·phine (tr-fn)
A cylindrical or crown saw for the removal of a disk of bone, especially from the skull, or removal of other firm tissue such as that of the cornea.

I generally try to avoid viewing album art, liner notes, and band profiles prior to hearing actual records. I prefer my assessments to be cold and objective, worrying about any fluff or glam long after formulating an opinion on the sound. Scanning and dissecting Trephine, the debut EP from Chapel Hill's MAKE, I had to suffocate my own impulse to dig deeper before giving the full disc a fair shake. I had no idea what "trephine" meant, but these nine bulky clods of sludgy drone drop like an anvil, sting like a head wound, and still soothe like a cool stream.

Demonstrating a buzzing symmetry between maturity and exhaustive gravity, MAKE's three accomplished craftsmen have laid down what may be one of 2012's finest metal records. Trephine's perfectly-realized, conceptually stunning scope is evident amongst the tempo shifts and impeccably-timed coups. The sludge brought us here this Sunday, but the expansive beauty of slipping into a "fantasy state" while jockying a hospital bed is the album's true feat.

MAKE aren't gonna rush listeners. Plenty of creep-ins and fadeouts punctuate the album, illustrated on Ancient Tongues. Fuzz manages an appearance, and listeners will notice a meteoric, near-patriotic guitar lift just before dreams crash into the shore's rocks. Scott Endres cuts his vocal folds on jagged peaks and spits crumbs of doom into a dead, dry riverbed. This epic opener is merely an open door to an epic album, trust me.

The crunchy canyon glances are given pause by the ominous buzz of After the Dust Settles, an intermission of sorts. The break is thunderous without being loud, haunting without being chilling. The grinding riffage of Returning to the Ruins of My Birthplace, however, marries fleeting and ghastly glimpses, growing unspeakable and unsettling. The album begins to reveal its complexities here, with gutteral and ethereal milieu amongst tapestries of drifting guitars. Long, fully-realized, and chugging, this sludge bites. That crushing sludge is most evident later, on Surrounded by Silent Lies. Elements of Crowbar rattle your skull, rhythms churn and shift, and Matt Stevenson's drums keep a slow pace, but not too slow. Unrefined and untamed for several minutes, the dirge gives way to psychedelia and the cymbal crash is nothing short of amazing. The confidence in Scott's guitars is staggering, and it makes the term "accessible" ring positively.

And speaking of accessible, ...And Time Came Undone is downright inviting. Though dense and cryptic, the track maintains a pleasant push until dual vocals (screams and growls) attack with an intuitive swinging grind. Pairing sludge complacency with metallic fury is hard to pull off, but MAKE create short work of it. Following is Valhalla, seemingly in no hurry with its vacuum tube echoes. Stoner tempos are maintained until guitar crunch finds a way home. The smoky squatters aren't diminished, though, and the song presents the album's most excellent use of time and space. This is a song that highlights everything Heavy Planet seeks, and all elements marry with exemplary execution and wise restraint. If you fall in love with one song this spring, make it this one.

Trephine is that scarce collection that you'll pull apart, examine, and poke without ever being satiated in your search for answers. The layers, the gigantic sound, the guitar stratum... MAKE never get over-zealous, but they also leave no loose ends. These songs represent the ultimate duality, with heaven and hell each grabbing an arm and pulling in opposition. The disc rolls through the brilliant end triptych of Rotting Palace's crumbling empire and boiling tempo, Scorched Sky's rotten fire and (stunningly) sticky My Bloody Valentine-shoegaze, and the slow handhold of doom and Spencer Lee's psychedelic bass jam on Into the Falling Gray. Misty moments are stolen from one song by another, from one member by another, etc.

Take your time here. Let these songs breathe and unfold and you'll find no reason to remove your headphones. In Metal Songwriting 101, Trephine would be the curriculum's cornerstone. Your head is gonna swell and your skull is gonna pound, but MAKE's death rattle has unparalleled warmth and voluminous complexity. Trephine is the perfect ailment and the perfect antidote, complete with enough syrup to dull the edge. This sounds nothing like a debut, and let's hope this sludge-drone trio develops that fleeting longevity many great bands have failed to achieve.

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