Ettrick - Sudden Arrhythmic Death (American Grizzly 3" CD-R)
You need to understand something - there's just some bands I'm destined to love without ever having heard a single note of their music. Am I a sucker? Yes, maybe. But that's how it is. When I heard Ettrick described as a black metal/free jazz duo, that was it. I was sold. I liked them even before this disc arrived at my house. And now I understand they actually have a full-length CD-R available too, which I also ordered without having a heard a single note of. The cross-pollination of metal and jazz is such a brilliant idea that it's a wonder so few people have tried it to date. The obvious name is John Zorn's Naked City (and, to a lesser degree, PainKiller) but that's more rooted in jazz than anything else...and there have been some prog metal bands trying it like Cynic or Atheist or Ephel Duath or Dysrhythmia but then that's more like metal bands with jazz-ish leanings...and even then it's almost always associated with prog metal and we all know the kind of negative connotations that can conjure up. Silentist is probably the only group I can think of who comes close to a jazz/metal fusion but they're too far out to be pinned down as one or the other or both. What the world needs is a band raised equally on obscurist black metal and classic ESP-era recordings...what the world needs is a band to combine these two loves into an unholy cacophonious union...what the world needs is a band who have Rashied Ali and Abruptum listed side-by-side in the "influences" part of their MySpace page...what the world needs...is Ettrick! (insert sound of gong being smashed)
Now, don't get me wrong, "Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is a monster. A 15-minute-long monster at that. But it's not exactly the perfect jazz/metal band as I've envisioned it, although they come pretty damn close. Basically the deal is that the Ettrick duo - San Francisco's Jacob Felix Heule and Jay Korber - both double up on drums while one mans the alto saxophone (Jacob) and the other mans the tenor saxophone (Jay). Sometimes, as on the opening few minutes of first and only track "Feeders of Ravens", they play together like bulls locking horns. Sometimes one mans the sax while the other takes the kit. Sometimes they switch. And then of course other times still they lock into the fourth combination, which is both guys playing drums. So right there you've got quite a lot of sound potential floating around but it's safe to say it doesn't convey too strong a feeling of black metal per se. More like grindcore, since the drumming here is seriously frantic. And the sax is heavy too...the opening sax duet is unbelievably harsh and sure to take a few years off your life if you listen to it turned up too loud. But then the drums kick in at such a furiously blazing pace you'd have to think they were machine-made if it wasn't for the fact that this cut was recorded live (on April 29th of this year in fact). But holy shit when the duo truly get going, they can outpace any current jazz duo like of couple of impalas sprinting towards the horizon. Of course they don't have any of the intricacies of those other groups since it's basically playing almost full blast as often as possible, but you don't need fucking intricacies when your album is called "Sudden Arrhythmic Death". Both J.'s are hell bandits on the kits, frequently choosing to play the sides/rims instead of the actual skins and when they both get on at the same time it makes for a vertigo-inducing psyche-pummelling soup, no shit. At their most aggressive I'd put Ettrick on equal terms with grindcore overlords like Fear of God, World, Arsedestroyer and so on. I guess they've got definite ties to Abruptum though in that both bands utilize improvisation (Ettrick moreso out of necessity since there's no way you could chart and plot the kind of polyrhythms being thrown down here). Gather Bennink, Corsano, Pearson, Graves, Mounier, Blair, Portnoy, Chippendale, even the dude from the Berzerker on their own kits in a one and a half flat, stick a coupla brass throats in the middle and have them play along to Napalm Death and Pig Destroyer records and that's the kind of intensity Ettrick are bringing to the table, with just two men on the job!
I knew a blind buy like this couldn't do me wrong, and boy was I ever right..."Sudden Arrhythmic Death" is straight up one of the best new anythings I've heard from anyone in the last anytime. Full marks and a highest recommendation, especially if you're an adventurous metal fan or the kind of jazz head who wondered if there was life beyond Last Exit that didn't involve shitty no-wave acts. Here's hoping the LP lives up to my already-lofty expectations, but how could it not? All they have to do is show up and it's guaranteed gold.