Author: BD Joyce
- Artist: Agoraphobic Nosebleed
- Album: Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope
- Year of Release: 2002
- Country: USA
- Label: Relapse Records
- Format: Jewelcase CD
- Catalogue Number: RR 6530
Agoraphobic Nosebleed, if the name alone were not clue enough, have long been arch provocateurs of the grindcore scene, taking the basic template of the genre – warp-speed riffing, relentless blastbeats, and short, sharp songs lasting seconds rather than minutes – and deconstructing it, before feeding it piece by piece into a psychedelic blender, and lacing the resulting slurry with a liberal (and quite possibly libertarian) dose of offensive, irreverent humour. Grind is often a form of extreme music infused with the (generally left-wing) political ideology of its creators; bands such as Napalm Death, Brutal Truth and Insect Warfare have commonly used both their lyrics and public statements as a platform for their beliefs, advocating strongly anti-capitalist and pro-animal rights ideological positions. However, almost as a direct reaction to both these viewpoints themselves, and also perhaps the po-faced and sometimes overly earnest stance of much grind, there has long been a strain of the genre which has sought to embrace the inherent absurdity of sounds which are, due to their extremity, unintelligible and frankly unpalatable to all but a small proportion of music fans, translating this sonic absurdity to the lyrical content. Probably due to their none-more-offensive name and song titles, Anal Cunt are the most well-known and notorious proponents of this version of grind, and it is fairly easy to draw a straight line from that now unavoidably defunct band (two of the Cunts are dead) to Agoraphobic Nosebleed. Not least because the single consistent member of ANb, guitarist / drum programmer Scott Hull, spent a couple of years as the Anal Cunt guitarist, presumably because he shared both that particular band’s musical and thematic preferences. Of course, much of the evidence suggests that despite Anal Cunt arguably aiming to position their outrageous themes as some kind of post-modern artistic statement, deploying racism and homophobia in deliberate provocation of liberal sensibilities, not unlike punks embracing Nazi imagery in the 1970s, in actual fact they meant much of what they said, and were fundamentally just objectionable, abhorrent individuals. The same cloud of suspicion cannot help but hang over Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and not unlike their distant cousins, they actively welcome and even weaponise the antagonism, in a blaze of gross-out humour and hyper-sexualised lyrics and samples that litter their albums, including this, their second full-length.
Even in the hands of extreme metal bands, the album tends to be a device that is aimed very much at guiding the listener through a carefully planned exploration, traversing the peaks and troughs that can be created by a judicious use of dynamics, tempos and song arrangements. If Agoraphobic Nosebleed are taking the listener on a journey, however, it is a one-way joyride downwards, through a progressively more hideous hellscape, during which the vehicle reaches terminal velocity almost instantaneously, before finally immolating itself and all of its flayed passengers in a thermonuclear explosion that frankly comes as a demented relief from the demented soundtrack to the apocalypse that Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope represents. Like landmarks seen from the window of a speeding bullet train, which loom into view momentarily, before evaporating in a blur as the landscape continually reconfigures itself, the songs pass by so swiftly that it is almost impossible to grasp them in any kind of meaningful way, riffs and drums piling on top of one another in an unending, shapeshifting perpetual motion.
After a brief intro, second track ‘Bitch’s Handbag Full Of Money’ sets the tone for the rest of the album – guitars like razor blades work through 30 seconds of taut warp-speed grind riffing, while the programmed drums offer a passable impression of an indiscriminate assault by machine gun. Indeed, the replacement of the more conventional human skin-beater with a drum machine, is one of the key points of difference for ANb, in comparison to the average grind band. In fact, one can’t help but feel that, in keeping with their enfant terrible aesthetic, this is another way in which the band use their position within the grind scene as a platform to poke fun at the rest of the scene, so fond of boasting of the (undeniably impressive) superhuman prowess of drummers like Dave Witte of Discordance Axis, who are able to blast their way athletically through song after song of insanely complex noise. In place of the all too superhuman timekeeper, ANb instead opt for a truly inhuman mechanised backdrop to their grind and, due in no small part to the masterful programming abilities of Scott Hull, it is hugely successful. What Agoraphobic Nosebleed lose in the feel and visceral thrill generated by a four-limbed drummer operating at the limits of their capacity, they gain in the manic intensity of a the relentless pounding of a drummer whose energy never wanes. There are also songs where the electronic capabilities available to the band allow them to push the envelope in ways that conventional instrumentation do not permit – ‘Hungry Homeless Handjob’ utilises a cold, throbbing techno drum part which pushes the tone and velocity into gabber territory, well outside the standard parameters of grind, and the delightfully titled ‘Shit Slit’ comes close to the kind of pure white noise that it is virtually impossible to produce organically. It is in these moments that ANb transcend their sometimes inherently gimmicky nature and transform into a more substantial, and frankly more interesting proposition than they may appear to be at first glance.
In fact, the more attention that one pays to each individual slab of grind mayhem, flying by at something approaching the speed of light, the more apparent the complexity and ingenuity that underpins many of their best songs becomes. In many respects, the grind of ANb is less the hardcore punk taken to its logical conclusion of their forbears such as Extreme Noise Terror or Napalm Death, and in actual fact more the kind of technical death metal popularised by a slew of Relapse label mates in the late 1990s (Dying Fetus, Origin etc), albeit compressed into the sort of dense and concise explosions of fury that tend to characterise grind. The death metal leanings can be detected with ease in the impenetrable drum flurries of ‘Ceremonial Gas Mask’, the churning Immolation-style riffing of ‘Dead Battery’ drenched in lugubrious pinch harmonics, and the energetic, chromatic thrashing of ‘Repercussions In The Life Of An Opportunistic, Pseudo-Intellectual Jackass’, which features a vocal cameo from Pete Ponitkoff of Benümb, a band that ANb show frequent similarities to in their less schizophrenic moments.
There are, of course, a number of tracks on which the more technical elements of the band’s sound are dialled down in favour of pure, heads down grind madness, more in the vein of a less crusty, and if we’re being truthful, less good Nasum. ‘Kill Theme For American Apeshit’ is malevolent grind, a fuzzy, almost black metal, guitar sound adding a woozy, seasick quality to the disorientating interweaving guitar lines, all of which acts to set the stage for a ‘Siege Of Power’-style mosh section to decimate the second half of the track. Similarly, the crunchy chugging of ‘Crap Cannon’ the tremolo-picked urgency of ‘Protection From Enemies’ and molten wall-to-wall blasting powerchords of ‘Double Negative’ offer plenty of opportunities for bug-eyed speedfreaks to get their conventional grind kicks, ANb packing an incredible amount of almost steroidal energy into galactically heavy bursts of high-velocity rage.
But, as previously mentioned, it’s the left turns and more off-kilter experimental moments that really catch the ear on Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope, and elevate the final result above the legions of 20 minute blastfests and split 7 inches that comprise the average grind act’s discography. This is not to criticise such releases, very much the lifesblood of the grind scene globally – Agoraphobic Nosebleed themselves have a typically labyrinthine back catalogue full of the kind of output that poses a severe challenge to any self-respecting completist. However, the format of a full-length studio album on a prestigious extreme label such as Relapse demands something a little more sophisticated, and ANb’s ability to combine the generic traits of grind with facets of power-electronics and noisecore ensures that they deliver on this count. Standout tracks in this vein include the electronically-augmented hyperblast of ‘Bovine Caligula’, bouncy punk-metal soundclash of ‘Time vs. Necessity’ (which is oddly reminiscent of Atari Teenage Riot), and precision legato guitar runs adoring the Dillinger Escape Plan stylings of ‘Ambulance Burning’, Most startlingly of all, ‘Organ Donor’ offers an alternative take on early-80s post-punk, before abruptly changing tack and unfurling the kind of monstrous, monolithic riff that Botch once made their speciality. Indeed, this is probably the only time that the album proffers anything catchy enough to be described as a hook, with the honourable exception of a maniacal cover of Nuclear Assault’s classic ‘Hang The Pope’, which features that band’s Dan Lilker assisting ANb in pushing the already extreme velocity of the borderline grind of the original to the point at which it triumphantly becomes indistinguishable from the band’s own material.
As ‘Fuckmaker’ closes the album with yet another contrarian gesture – a couple of minutes of completely incongruous trip-hop after 37 tracks of breakneck grind, followed by a couple of minutes of silence before the album expires in a haze of rapid-fire blasting and a final unpleasant sample – it is difficult not to conclude that Agoraphobic Nosebleed have contributed a work of high calibre that, while not exactly genre-smashing, does develop and progress the genre in some exciting directions. It doesn’t have the coherence and elite level songs of From Enslavement To Obliteration, Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses or World Downfall, thus missing out of top tier status, but it does deserve to be considered one of the better modern examples of grind, and has been surpassed by relatively few records within the genre in the nearly 20 years since its release.