Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

Author: BD Joyce

Akercocke – I’ll Get My Goat…
  • Artist: Akercocke
  • Album: The Goat Of Mendes
  • Year of Release: 2001
  • Country: UK
  • Label: Peaceville
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: CDVILE95/610952

Many a band has foundered in the face of following up a brilliant debut album of the kind that Akercocke had released in 1999, in the shape of Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene. Relatively speaking, bands have a lifetime to write a debut and almost no expectation or external pressure. Suddenly finding themselves at the forefront of cutting-edge extreme metal, with the eyes of a newly-formed fanbase on them, The Goat Of Mendes would very much determine whether the promise of their debut could be fulfilled, or whether they would simply become another band who burned like a match, brightly, but momentarily, before the fire is extinguished. The plethora of ideas contained on their debut, together with the hints of a greater musical versatility that they were unable to fully explore on the previous album certainly boded well for the future, and suggested that it was unlikely that they would run out of steam quickly. It takes only minutes for The Goat Of Mendes to confirm that this is indeed the case, and in fact the band’s second album exceeds its predecessor in all respects, building on already solid foundations to create a monument capable of comfortably weathering the corrosive passage of time.

As if to underscore the fact that The Goat Of Mendes very much takes everything that worked so brilliantly on the previous album to another level of sophistication and intensity, the opening track ‘Of Menstrual Blood And Semen’ commences in a way that is eerily reminiscent of ‘Hell’ from its predecessor, a maelstrom of painfully dissonant guitars quickly giving way to aggressive, speed-laden death metal, with their trademark schizophrenic, overlapping vocals trading deep guttural growls with higher-register black metal screams. And where Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene was marred, at least in part, by it’s weak production, there are no such misgivings this time round. The guitars retain their trebly, almost Morrisound crunch, the flashes of synth add sonic depth to what otherwise might feel a slightly dry mix, and most importantly for a band for whom complex rhythmic patterns are such an integral part of their sound, the drums are crisp and powerful, and now weaponised to the level that David Gray’s skilful contribution merits. The sheer energy and vitality of this (and virtually every other) track on the album is hugely invigorating, but there is much more to enjoy than merely the simplistic brutality of warp-speed tremolo riffing. Akercocke have a wonderful ability to ally the linear riffing of early-90s death metal (particularly Morbid Angel) with the kind of tension-filled unusual chord voicings of prime Godflesh, which lends a modern, almost urban feel to their metallic assault, and this is particularly apparent on this opener. The inchoate songwriting ability of the debut is allowed to fully flourish on The Goat Of Mendes too, and many of the best tracks are spectacular epics that contain numerous memorable sections, but move fluently from one section to another. After the frenetic start, ‘Of Menstrual Blood And Semen’ is the first such example, moving through a complex instrumental segment, which recalls Absu with its use of Eastern-sounding modes, before the guitars make way for a lascivious-sounding electronic section, Akercocke’s broad range of genre influences coming to the fore, before everything comes to a majestic conclusion after seven captivating minutes.

The Goat Of Mendes is rarely anything less than spellbinding, but its status as a modern-day extreme classic hinges on a trio of songs that are superficially quite similar in their utilisation of the band’s newly confident ability to deploy catchy clean vocal melodies, far outstripping some tentative steps in this direction on Akercocke’s debut release. Of course, the incorporation of clean vocals into the armoury of almost any extreme metal act has long been viewed by some as indicative of a craven shift into more commercially viable territory and therefore as a kind of betrayal of true metal values, but this kind of thinking is tedious and simple-minded. It is of course undeniable that Akercocke enjoyed greater success after the release of The Goat Of Mendes, and the more palatable nature of some of their tracks in a mainstream metal setting may indeed have had something to do with this, but just as likely is the simple fact that their first album had been acclaimed in such a way that a greater level of hype and anticipation for its follow-up would inevitably translate into sales, This was also greatly assisted by the fact that it was released by Peaceville, a significant and credible metal label with strong distribution. Additionally, it should also be stated that the antipathy towards clean vocals in metal is both laughable and hypocritical, given the line that can almost always be drawn from any extreme metal band back through thrash, NWOBHM and eventually to Black Sabbath, where clean melodic vocals are of course an integral part of the genesis of metal. Clean vocals are simply another colour to paint with, another texture that can be used to increase the number of possible paths that any given song can explore. Clearly, depending on a band’s core sound, there will be some paths that might remain perpetually off-limits – it’s difficult to imagine any parts of the back catalogues of Autopsy, Cannibal Corpse or Von being improved by contributions of an operatically-trained tenor. However, for a band as versatile as Akercocke, adding another string to the bow can only enhance what they do, and that is resolutely the case here.

The first of this trio of parallel universe hit singles is ‘A Skin For Dancing In’. The title alone, at once both alluringly salacious and primitively animalistic, is enough to draw in the listener, and the musical content more than matches its promise, a perfect aural creation of the decadent images of the nocturnal bacchanal that it evokes. This track runs virtually the entire gamut of the Akercocke sound, but as ever, the band’s ability to combine what should be disparate and incongruous elements into a single glorious whole prevents things from becoming in any way disjointed. The drum ‘n’ bass rhythms that have been hinted at previously are in full effect in the first section of the song, with the chunky understated guitars taking a back seat through the electronically-augmented verses, before what could be seen as the second movement sees the band blast for Satan as enthusiastically and ferociously as they ever have, frontman Jason Mendonca sinisterly intoning ‘Escape into the woods’, and adding to the atmosphere. From there, the song takes flight through a series of complex rhythmic changes, David Gray’s drumming once again propelling the band to new heights, and otherwordly guitar harmonies decorate the brutality of the riffing. Finally, the chorus releases all of the pent-up tension in a rush of gothic grandeur, lush synth instrumentation recalling the wave of late-90s melancholic metal, where it seemed that a small section of the scene discovered goth and prog simultaneously, resulting in the glorious, sweeping weirdness of bands such as Tiamat, …In The Woods, and Winds. Approximately five godlike riffs later, a song of quite outlandish brilliance comes to an end, and one imagines that they can’t possibly repeat the trick once more, having surely exhausted their well of ideas.

For many bands that would be the case, but Akercocke are not many bands. ‘Horns Of Baphomet’ is the sound of lightning striking twice, another multi-part epic this time operating in a slower, more stately tempo, Mendonca’s plaintive alto a suitable match for the sombre melodies of the chorus. ‘Horns Of Baphomet’ demonstrates the band’s growing ability to create beautifully layered music, with the subtle use of gossamer light acoustic guitars blending almost imperceptibly with crunching arpeggios facilitating fluid transitions through the many dimensions of the track, before Akercocke show their ability to master death metal of a slow and grinding nature, as well as the blasting tremolo that tends to be their preference. ‘He Is Risen’ completes what feels like a trilogy of monstrous scale, again showcasing the band’s magnificent ability to combine complex and intricate death metal riffing, with dissonant chords, and black metal vocals and atmosphere. The horn-assisted pummelling blast that drives the song relentlessly towards its conclusion is possibly the high point of the entire record, standing as a testament to the manifestation of a grander vision than most bands can even aspire to, let alone realise.

Akercocke – The Goat Of Mendes

If the aforementioned tracks heralded the arrival of Akercocke as a world-class metal band that could stand comparison with any of their peers, this is not to imply that the rest of The Goat Of Mendes fails to impress. In fact, the album is remarkably consistent, and there are thrilling moments to be found throughout. ‘Masks Of God’ benefits from the record’s smart sequencing, surprising with intense, Suffocation-style technical death metal from the first beat, contrasting with the slightly more measured approach that the band tend to adopt to building a song ordinarily, and the groovy thrash feel that runs through much of the rest of the track uncharacteristically emphasises the rhythm guitars, at times even approaching the mechanised rattle of Fear Factory, before a pyrotechnic instrumental section brings us back to more familiar territory. Even the brief classical interlude of ‘Fortune My Foe’, a mournful piece of chamber music, is in keeping with the overall mood of the album, and skilfully serves to connect Akercocke’s music to something less obviously rooted in the 21st century, suggesting that they are able to tap into an ageless evil, in the same way that the classical guitar pieces on Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality add an arcane mystique to the sound of another legendary British metal band.

Reinforcing the perfection of the album’s sequencing, it is hard to imagine The Goat Of Mendes concluding with any other track than ‘Ceremony Of Nine Angles’. Running to nearly nine minutes, the track is an almost unbearably intense epic that pushes the band’s bombastic ambition further than ever before. The tremolo blast is a common feature of the band’s sound, but the technicality and choice of notes tends to draw from classic death metal, rather than the kind of icy, minor key modes that characterise black metal. On this track, however, Akercocke dive headlong into black metal territory, attacking the opening riff with the kind of fevered mania of Impaled Nazarene, circa Tol Kormpt Norz Norz Norz…, gradually building to a symphonic climax that recalls Emperor or Abigor. The band truly slip the leash across the ferocious final minutes of the album, with Gray’s tom rolls going off like artillery rounds, and layered choral drones generating an overwhelming wave of sound that finally breaks as Mendonca is heard speaking a final incantation: ‘Thou art my master: Satan!’. The whole thing is nothing less than an ecstatic hymn to the power of the horned one, and displays the kind of awe and power that one imagines would satisfy him.

The Goat Of Mendes is nothing short of a monumental achievement. Deservedly hailed as such on its release, if anything, it has improved with age, so rarely has it been surpassed since, within its milieu at least. Frequently, one cannot help but feel that contemporary extreme metal albums sometimes opt for duration over quality, as if the mere passing of time denotes epic scale and scope, and what could have been an excellent 40 minute album instead becomes a 75 minute test of endurance. Akercocke’s second album, however, is a 60 minute album that is hugely grandiose, and yet feels like a tight, concise album of the type that Death or Deicide would have released in the halcyon days of classic death metal. Lengthy tracks fly by, primarily because of the strength of the material and the fluency of the composition, which ensures that what could seem cold and calculated in fact feels organic and (in)human. This album is a towering classic that fulfils the huge potential of Akercocke’s debut, in a disdainful display of metal might for the ages.

Score: 92%

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

Author: BD Joyce

Akercocke – Suits You Sir!
  • Artist: Akercocke
  • Album: Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene
  • Year of Release: 1999
  • Country: UK
  • Label: Peaceville
  • Format: Digipack CD
  • Catalogue Number: CDVILED647

It’s difficult to overstate the impact that Akercocke made when they broke out of London’s underground extreme metal scene at the tail end of the 1990s. Although the UK had played a huge role firstly in the genesis of metal itself via Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, and Venom’s unholy racket had been one of the catalysts for the development of thrash and black metal in the early 1980s, outside of a fertile grind and death-doom scenes centred around Napalm Death, Carcass and Paradise Lost, the UK had been little more than a bit-part player in the global explosion of black metal and death metal emanating from the Scandinavian and American hotbeds. Cradle Of Filth, despite the polarising nature of their aesthetic, were the only British black metal band at that point that had successfully transcended their local scene, and despite the best efforts of a congested and incestuous London community, there were few bands that seemed especially likely to replicate Cradle Of Filth’s success, let alone challenge the best that Norway, Sweden or even the Netherlands had to offer at that time. So when Akercocke emerged, seemingly fully-formed, complete with striking sartorial choices and a high concept vision together with the ability to realise it, it was a stunning bolt from the blue, and they were almost immediately transformed into one of extreme metal’s most intriguing and forward-thinking bands. Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene is at once a statement of the band’s overt and seductively blasphemous Satanism, and a slightly (but only slightly) rough and ready template for a sound that they would perfect over a sequence of outstanding albums that would end only with their initial dissolution in 2012.

It would be a mistake to dismiss Akercocke’s first album on the basis that it is not yet the perfect realisation of their sound, however. While they would go on to make more impressive albums, their debut transcends its occasionally under-powered production with a succession of songs virtually over-flowing with enthralling ideas and impressive musicianship. Akercocke also succeed because, like many of metal’s most iconic bands (and perhaps contrary to the protestations of some fans who maintain that the music is the only thing that counts), they offer more than simply excellent music. First comes the name, and linked to this, the thematic conceit of their first album. In a scene stuffed to bursting with death metal bands referencing some kind of unpleasant bodily mutilation, and Tolkien and Norse mythology-obsessed black metal bands, the mysterious and esoteric name of Akercocke, not unlike their British contemporaries Anaal Nathrakh, was impossible to forget once heard. This moniker gains an additional layer of interest when one learns that the name was taken from Robert Nye’s re-telling of the Faust mythos, specifically a capuchin monkey given to Faust through Satan himself. It also lends some depth to the band’s avowed Satanism, something far beyond the cartoonish facade of the many bands that have invoked the devil’s name and image through the years purely (and frequently successfully) to shock. Their spiritual beliefs bring a palpable authenticity to their music, and serve to enhance the genuinely disquieting atmosphere imparted by the songs themselves, and also the black mass-style interludes and invocations that are often utilised to bridge one song to another. Finally, the band’s aesthetic, encompassing their instantly recognisable monochrome artwork (generally featuring sexual images of women in various states of undress) as well as their be-suited onstage presence, demonstrates both a seriousness of intent and the creation of a totally immersive and coherent universe in which the band operate, and which the listener is able to completely lose themselves in.

Of course, all of this has function in complement to the music itself – if the songs failed to match the impressiveness of the concept, Akercocke would have been as dead in the water as any other style over substance band. Fortunately, this is resolutely not the case with Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene, and therefore all of the peripheral elements serve only to strengthen the whole edifice, an edifice that would be further reinforced by the albums that followed. As soon as ‘Hell’, the first track proper kicks in, following a suitably eerie chanted declaration which acts to prepare the listener for the upcoming assault, it is immediately clear that something startling and unprecedented is taking place. The band could so easily have launched into one of the many ripping riffs that populate the album, but instead prioritise atmosphere, by choosing to delay gratification, ‘Hell’ commencing with seething, demonic discordance, and almost whispered vocals. Once the crunching guitars do finally surge into action, the song continues through a whirlwind of ferocious tremolo riffing, complex tempo changes and intriguing rhythmic ideas. ‘Hell’ represents the infernal genesis of a riffing style that is highly individual and instantly recognisable. More often than not, Akercocke are ostensibly playing a slightly avant-garde version of death metal. The most aggressive tracks on this record generally combine snatches of single string tremolo blasts with lengthy passages of spidery, technical melodies, the twin guitars frequently alternating between unison sections, and segments in which they break into split harmonies that generally eschew classic metal intervals for something considerably more evil-sounding. The nearest comparison would be early Morbid Angel, or perhaps Nile at their most direct, although it should be noted that the trace elements of thrash that are so apparent on Altars Of Madness are almost entirely absent from Akercocke’s sound. What makes Akercocke so unique though, is the fact that they are clearly not just a death metal band. Philosophically, their Satanism places them much closer to orthodox black metal, and although musically the band share little in common with mid-90s Norsecore, the way in which they are able to imbue their music with a sense of awe and majesty allows them, in combination with a subtle use of synths, to straddle the death metal / black metal divide with skill. Finally, the progressive touches which will become significantly more pronounced as their discography is expanded is of a piece with a black metal scene that, as the 20th century drew to a close, was introducing a plethora of different sounds to the black metal template, resulting in the dramatic transformation of previously orthodox bands such as Enslaved, Dodheimsgard and Thorns into wildly progressive musical explorers.

As the album progresses, it’s clear that although all elements of the band’s sound may not be fully-realised in the way that they will be on The Goat Of Mendes, they are all discernible to varying degrees. When they all coalesce, as they do on early career highlight ‘Nadja’, or the monumental ‘Justine’, the results are astounding. ‘Nadja’ seamlessly welds a memorable Morbid Angel meets Beherit tremolo riff to some slick and dextrous lead playing, and overlays the whole with some truly vicious vocals. Another feature of the Akercocke sound is the clever use of contrasting vocal styles, which frequently overlap to create a disorienting feel, and ‘Nadja’ leans heavily on high-pitched screamed vocals to wonderfully unsettling effect. The complexity of the rhythmic interplay between David Gray’s outstanding drumming and the guitars, and the harmonic counterpoints that the guitars create completely belies the band’s naivety as a recording act, and frankly, the level of compositional sophistication displayed here put Akercocke at the forefront of a small number of death metal bands forging new paths for the genre in 1999. ‘Justine’ demonstrates a similar melodic intricacy, and the way in which this spellbinding track evolves from an introductory section in which the band give the impression that they are rising, undead, from eldritch depths, through a subtle electro section, Gray’s patterns mimicking the breakbeats of drum ‘n’ bass, before finally climaxing in an extended progressive death metal instrumental section is utterly unique. The hint of electronics on this track is a thread that runs through the album as a whole, and a tantalising glimpse of a set of influences that run rather deeper than the obvious metallic touchpoints. This thread is audible through the ghostly interlude ‘The Goat’, and ambient outro ‘The Blood’ and although the band use these sounds cautiously on Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene, they are well-integrated enough into the Akercocke sound that they do not feel jarring or incongruous.

In fact, nothing on this ambitious debut feels out of place, even if it does not all quite hit the heights of ‘Nadja’ and ‘Justine’. In ‘Zuleika’, Akercocke give us the only track on the album that feels like a demo-level recording. The somewhat stock riffs fail to take flight and inspire in the way that they do elsewhere, and overall the song lacks the distinct personality that ordinarily makes the band’s music so memorable. Despite this though, the slightly unclassifiable blackened death metal is reminiscent of such legendary oddities as Mystifier and Root, and thus helpfully serves to connect Akercocke with the more obscure reaches of the extreme metal underground, burnishing their metal credentials, and again displays a wide-range of less obvious influences. Additionally, although the strength of the material renders it a trivial problem, the production is inconsistent at best. While at no point is it poor enough to prevent the band’s many ideas from connecting with the listener, it would be of minimal surprise to discover that Gray’s drum parts were the recorded sound of him pounding wet cardboard, and although the drum patterns themselves are outstanding, they don’t quite drive the band forward with the taut energy that the songs deserve.

Akercocke – Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene

These criticisms are minor complaints though, which do little to diminish the enjoyment of a supremely confident debut. Akercocke play with the kind of dismissive arrogance that one should expect from devoted Satanists, and fortunately the quality of the material matches the intent of the delivery. Even in the early stages of their career, the band have a firm grasp on the art of channelling their vision into hook-laden songwriting, while keeping things interesting via continual tempo shifts, and subtle rhythmic changes. Their riffs and melodies are often breathtakingly intricate, but although the band impress with their technical proficiency, they also clearly recognise the value of dropping into a ferocious d-beat tremolo riff to allow the listener to bang as well as scratch their head; combining beauty with brutality to thrilling effect. In their more experimental moments, they are also able to generate captivating metal from less obvious ingredients. The droning, almost ritualistic discordance of ‘Marguerite & Gretchen’ sounds familiar now, in a modern black metal scene populated by the likes of The Ruins Of Beverast and Schammasch, but in 1999 this was hugely innovative and unconventional, and it has barely dated in the years that have followed, much like the vast majority of a masterful album. Akercocke would go on to make better records, but Rape Of The Bastard Nazarene retains the magick that it radiated on its release, and remains a landmark in extreme metal, as well as the first step in an endlessly impressive career.

Score: 87%

Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Altered States Of America

Author: BD Joyce

Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Altered States Of America
  • Artist: Agoraphobic Nosebleed
  • Album: Altered States Of America
  • Year of Release: 2003
  • Country: USA
  • Label: Relapse Records
  • Format: Jewelcase CD
  • Catalogue Number: RR 6533-2

Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s previous album Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope remains one of the most startling and high calibre grind albums of the 21st century, cleverly combining the visceral thrill and buzzsaw guitars of classic grind with elements of modern technical death metal, and electronic noise. If that album was still relatively conventional in its presentation, Altered States Of America sees the band not just jumping off the deep end, but completing an elaborate and flamboyant diving routine before hitting the water, quote possibly while wearing a clown suit. Altered States Of America sees ANb offering their own chemically-enhanced state of the union address, and it’s very much a sick parody of the American dream. It is ostensibly the band’s third full-length, although this description is something of an oxymoron, giving the 20 minute run-time. Not for the first time, Agoraphobic Nosebleed seem to be having fun with the classic tropes of grind recordings, while also making a performance art statement. A 20 minute album, at least in this genre, is not especially remarkable. This particular 20 minute album though, features 100 tracks of extremely short duration, all contained within a single 3 inch CD. Were it not for the sheer fevered intensity of the music that comprises the album, it would be easily to conclude that at this point, ANb are having a joke at the expense of anyone foolish enough to invest in such a ridiculous artefact. And of course, they clearly are taking the piss, at least in part. However, Altered States Of America is far from devoid of musical merit, and in many ways takes their particular brand of grind to some sort of logical conclusion – once a band has released something this heavy, this fast and unrelenting, verging so close at times to unstructured noise, in many ways it opens two possibilities – annihilation, or alternatively, total liberation.

In reality, while far from the conventional albums that it might be compared to, Altered States Of America is not exactly 100 discrete tracks. While it’s true that the album does contain a multitude of miniscule songs, almost as if the listener is looking at grindcore through the lens of a powerful microscope, there are also longer sections which function as separate movements of a single piece of music, or ambient interlude. The album covers many of the same touchpoints as previous record Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope – pornographic sex, extreme violence and enough drugs to fuel a South American civil war, but, as indicated by the title, the emphasis this time round is very much on the pharmaceutical dimension of that particular trifecta. If Woodstock and Altamont represented the end of the hippie dream in a haze of marijuana and bad acid, Altered States Of America is the American dream turned sour 40 years later. The water supply is contaminated with hallucinogens, and humanity is turning on itself against the backdrop of a lysergically-animated landscape, slowly circling the drain before the final descent into oblivion.

Prior to the first thematically linked suite of songs, Altered States Of America actually commences properly (after an annoyingly difficult to find track 00) with a solid slab of grind, following a more traditional compositional structure, a track which would not be out of place on their less outlandish album of 12 months previous. Running to very nearly an entire minute, ‘Spreading The Dis-Ease’ is very much the ‘Rime Of The Ancient Mariner’ or ‘2112’ of this particular record, and gleefully careers out of the traps, courtesy of a rolling, almost swinging groove riff, which recalls prime Nasum or even Terrorizer, albeit featuring a drummer sporting a pneumatic drill in place of a pair of sticks. This is followed by ‘Ark Of Ecoterrorism’, which continues the unexpectedly gentle descent into the acid-fuelled madness of the majority of the record, consisting entirely of an infectious mid-paced mosh section, which would undoubtedly spark an energetic pit if played live, for the 13 seconds that elapse before it concludes. Presumably, these tracks are the sound of Agoraphobic Nosebleed waiting for the drugs that they have imbibed to take effect, because from track 3 onwards, the remaining 97 tracks pass by in a nauseatingly psychedelic blur, as if the listener were force-fed mind-altering narcotics, before being strapped into a centrifuge and spun for the remainder of the album.

As a succession of micro-blasts hurtle by, ANb alternate between grind played at the kind of manic velocity which transforms it into formless noise, and shards of something that is recognisably heavy music, riffs and breakdowns occasionally emerging through the static to make a brief impression, before the listener is overwhelmed by the noise once more. The classic metal twin guitars of ‘Guided Tour’ raise a wry smile, as does the spidery thrash riff sported by ‘Ten Pounds Of Remains’, while ‘Honky Dong’ displays the mind-boggling dexterity of Dillinger Escape Plan, and ‘Removing Locator Tooth’ answers the admittedly not oft-asked question of what Nile would sound like, were they to channel their labyrinthine technical modalities into 6 seconds of white-hot grind.

The first set of connected songs (the track divisions are essentially relevant for administrative purposes only, and also, one assumes, for pushing the overall track count to a round century), concern the Tokyo subway Sarin attacks, perpetrated by adherents of the Aum Shinrinko cult. Under the provocative (and, it has to be said, reprehensible) heading ‘Free Shoko Asahara’, 14 tracks are occupied by a soundtrack of drones and power electronics, over which distorted vocals intone portentous lines such as ‘”Japan’s Aum doomsday cult / that masterminded / the fatal nerve gas attack / on Tokyo subways / considered spraying the drug LSD / from the sky”. Given ANb’s determination to shock and offend, the extent to which they truly endorse the cult’s chemical weapon attack which injured thousands of innocent commuters is debatable, but one assumes that they do at least align themselves philosophically with Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, in their enthusiastic advocacy of the merits of strong psychedelic drugs. Regardless of whether or not the listener chooses to partake in such activities or not before experiencing this album, the churning noise and scattershot approach to grind that Altered States Of America represents is likely to render the listener unsettled, confused, and not a little exhilarated.

The second set of interconnecting tracks is the centrepiece of the album, a succession of tracks detailing the band’s own 12 days of Sodom. Unsurprisingly, this is lyrically an exercise in outrageous, and frequently abhorrent profanity, and musically the tracks are virtually indistinguishable – a drum fill, a couple of seconds of warped grind, and garbled vocals screaming frequently nonsensical tirades, the most amusing of which take aim at the rather pious Boston hardcore scene exemplified by the excellent, but easily mocked, Hydrahead Records. As the twelfth near-identical song ends, it is not difficult to wonder whether Agoraphobic Nosebleed have simply concluded that due to the fact that it exists primarily to evoke an instantaneous and visceral emotional reaction to primal noise, and to evoke that same reaction every single time, musical variety in grind is ultimately redundant. And if that is the case, then why not simply release an album that endlessly repeats the same 5 seconds of noise, ad infinitum? The joke here is very much on the listener, however much they believe they are laughing along with the band.

After abnormal service is briefly resumed with ‘Poland Springfield Acidbag’, the remaining 10 minutes of Altered States Of America oscillates between light-speed grind, and sheet-metal noisescapes. No song lasts for long enough to merit the description of a highlight exactly – even as the listener is forming an opinion on ‘For Just Ten Cents A Day…’, which is the sound of Slayer filtered through a building site, or the odd amalgam of drum ‘n’ bass and Cephalic Carnage-style schizophrenic death metal of ‘Neural Linguistic Programming’, or even the laughably unfathomable grind brutality of ‘Shotgun Funeral’, several more songs have been and gone, each filled with complex rhythmic ideas, overwhelming programmed drums, and monumentally heavy guitars. It’s a whirlwind of noise, and no amount of repeat plays can commit more than a few seconds of the album to memory. To do so would require a level of repetition which simply cannot be found on an album that is predominantly comprised of songs that are over more quickly than the average Olympic 100m final. Arguably though, this does give rise to one of the more interesting facets of the album – almost every time it is played, it is experienced differently, as the ear alights momentarily on something previously unheard or overlooked amid the unrelenting and unremitting maelstrom.

It is, perhaps, a relief when the anti-climactic closing track ‘Placing A Personal Memo On The Boss’s Desk’ completes an album that is less considered musical statement, and more a succession of hands entirely constructed from extended middle fingers. Although Agoraphobic Nosebleed apparently hate everyone, it is difficult not to conclude that they reserve their harshest loathing for their own listeners, such is the endurance test that they subject them to. And yet, Altered States Of America is grimly fascinating, a drug-addled freakshow that it is impossible to tear one’s eyes and ears from. It is not unusual for metal, particularly traditional heavy metal, to take as its lyrical and conceptual theme the heroic crusade of the courageous warrior, standing alone against impossible odds, armed only with a longsword, and the strength of his convictions. Musically, the triumphant heroism of the music is designed to match this image. Agoraphobic Nosebleed, on the other hand, are the sound of this warrior slowly realising that humanity is doomed, before making sure of it in a blaze of machine-gun fire, and finally turning the gun on themselves. This sound is sometimes staggeringly impressive, sometimes forgettable, and sometimes even painful and irritating, but perhaps it is the sound that we deserve.

Score: 71%