Northless, Clandestine Abuse

[Initially micro-reviewed by me here and here.]

So, let’s get right to it:

Crowbar’s older, bigger, dumber brother. (Hanging out with Godflesh.)

Been listening to the vinyl (orange marbled, very nice) for a while now– the most interesting/ thematically-representative part:

At 2:24 of “Clandestine Abuse,” the guitars switch to clean tones (none distorted) over bass; those guitars, intentionally or not, sound brief extended chords over the root notes in the bass (the guitars hit ninths and thirteenths, which, though they sound dissonant from the vibrato with which they’re played, are diatonic (“in chord”) tones)– the effect is an unusual one for metal bands (Atheist, Cynic, or late-period Death excepted) but is very typical of jazz fusion (particularly John Mclaughlin on Miles Davis’ A Tribute to Jack Johnson or Bitches Brew) and some avant-guard jazz like Roscoe Mitchell, Wes Montgomery, Cecil Taylor or even Thelonious Monk’s open chord voicings– resulting here in a dissonant, vaguely bluesey sludge.

The effect on the ear is confusing. The effect on the ear is attractive: it wants to return to the tune to “figure it out” and since it won’t, keeps you going back, and going back.

It’s like meth for your ears.

Miraculously, it comes off as jazzy and sludgy at the same time; they’ve been blended well.

“Clandestine Abuse” was an interesting enough tune that it made me want to learn to play it (hence the analysis above); the true test of a riff: it may be cool to listen to, but is it so cool it makes you want to imitate that sound, to reproduce it?

Also, the ass doesn’t drop out of the song when the guitars lose their distortion (very difficult to do, apparently, because it seemingly never happens on albums); this is the only instance I can think of this being done successfully besides Sloath‘s “Please Maintain.”

AND, it may be the key to a truly unique sound for Northless: yes they can crush, but that’s not in short supply with this type of music: it seems like exploring this tendency (while continuing to avoid that multiple personality switching of jazz-METAL-jazz-METAL that “jazzy” metal bands tend to do) could be their key to a truly unique, identifiable sound.

Did they mean to do it? No idea.

Not sure it matters.

But they drew the circle and this was the beautiful demon that answered, a crushing feel with hints of a distinct personal sound– no mean feat in heavy metal, particularly sludge, which usually sacrifices identity for sheer weight.

It also doesn’t hurt that drummer John Gleisner, like Howl‘s Timmy St. Amour, Intronaut’s Danny Walker or Danzig’s Chuck Biscuits, has a palpable sense of groove: like Centurions Ghost, this is sludge that swings. This swing keeps Clandestine Abuse from bogging down in the plodding that usually makes up doom/sludge drumming. It keeps a track like “Flesh & Ghost” from just being a simple riff played again and again and makes it a jam; it keeps the above “Clandestine Abuse” from being an open-chord, spacey oscillation-fest Godflesh or Nadja tune– and pretty much solves what always slightly bothers me about either band (particularly Nadja): it grounds them. While the riffs phase/flange out, the drummer’s thang compliments the riffs, adds a bright ringing contrast, and makes Northless’ sound wholeNot unlike Pelican’s Larry Herweg, Gleisner plays minimally. It’s plaintive, and mournful, and crushing.

Soul-soothing….

If Clandestine Abuse isn’t on my top 10 list this December, 2011 is going to be one great year for metal.

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