Skullflower - Tribulation (Crucial Blast CD)
Probably the best thing about Skullflower's affiliation with the mostly-metal label Crucial Blast (since last year's "Orange Canyon Mind") is the fact that Skullflower records now get reviewed by 100% serious metalhead muttonheads. If you don't believe me, hit up Google and see for yourself. The best one I came across suggested, among other things, to "look away from this release and find something more aggressive and more heavy". Now everyone's entitled to their opinion, but is that even possible? Heavier than Skullflower? Matt Bower and co. were sculpting the very definition of heavy in the 80's while Glen Benton and Chuck Schuldiner were still wearing sweatpants onstage. But I digress. "Tribulation" finds Bower solo again (just like last year) and continuing his total dissection of rock music as you and I came to know it, as seen on recent albums from other projects Sunroof! ("Silver Bear Mist"), Mirag ("Black Temple Carved in Smoke") and Hototogisu ("Green"). Whereas early Skullflower records always had one foot in the genre, Bower appears to have bid farewell for good to all that with 2003's "Exquisite Fucking Boredom" and immersed himself fully in black strands of drone, noise, feedback, delay, and general head-swirling debauchery.
The floorplan is laid out right from the start as soon as you press play, with "Lost in the Blackened Gardens of Some Vast Star" shrieking and howling like some kind of Merzbowian attempt at metal, complete with total amplifier destruction about half way through its 9-minute orbit. "Black Wind" and "Saragossa" are both static-backed eruptions that whirl through the air between your ears while "Dying Venice" sounds more akin to something from the last Sunroof! album - huge glops of nauseating psychedelic noise detonating and reigniting all over again. The title track is one of the album's best as Bower lays down a thick bass-y rumble that grinds and evolves underneath a whole bunch of brightly burning guitar yawnings and distortions. You have to hear that snaking, barely-audible chord stretch for yourself, it's a thing of real beauty once it hits. "Void of Roses" plays like the riff to Sleep's "Jerusalem" as covered by, well, Skullflower. Which is to say a whole heck of a lot of noise and dillution on top of it. There's a great part a couple minutes in where it sounds like the entire mixing board caves in and a dense smog-like groan fills out the rest of the track. "Dwarf's Thunderbolt" is a grueling endurance test as Bower subtracts almost all the rock/metal and leaves the listener stranded on Feedback Island. It's right around here I'd imagine that our metal friends would throw their hands up in the air and the "Tribulation" disc out the window, but that's a total sucker move and besides, they wouldn't even get to hear the absolute jewel called "Silver Stars Rot Mindlessly..." which buddies up earthquake percussion (or "concussion" as per the liner notes) and more aggressive looped free guitar bellowing. Eventually the drums bow out and Bower is left to wrangle a furious speed-metal riff over the course of the track's final minutes. The album closer "In the Depths of the Stagnant Pond" is just as relentless as the eight tracks preceeding it, but offers up the album's only pause to catch your breath - the last seven or so seconds of the song as it starts to disintegrate (but never stops fully).
The thing I like about "Tribulation" (and what I liked about "Orange Canyon Mind") is the way that the album plays out coherantly but all the songs are totally isolated - no tracks flow into one another. In fact, none of the tracks really have a beginning or end. They all sound like they're edited down from a much larger recording session so you're dropped into the middle of the song, left to wade out there for 7 or so minutes, and jerked out and plopped down into the next one before you know it. If you weren't big on the last Skullflower record, or any of what Matt Bower's been up to lately (or your playlist consists solely of Suffocation, Dismember, Death and early Sepultura), I can't imagine "Tribulation" doing much to sway you...but then again I just don't have time for people like you. If you're even reading this blog you should any Skullflower is good Skullflower and always sure to rank high among the top releases of the year, whatever the year. No matter what the current political climate may be like, if there's war and terrorist attacks under way, if the ice caps are melting and the ozone layer is burning up like never before - as long as there are Skullflower records still being made, everything's A-OK by me.