Bloodiest makes one hell of a difficult-to-classify racket on debut album Descent. It’s more than a bit psychedelic, occasionally aggressive, yet more often contemplative and defiantly melancholic, and while the album runs through a wide palette of different sounds and styles, it never comes across as an exercise in cut and paste. The most persistent comparison my analogy-starved mind can produce is to Sunn O)))’s and Boris’s magisterial collaborative record, Altar. Descent is almost entirely dissimilar in both sound and style, but revels just as much in a collectivist ethos and thoughtful eclecticism. Much has been made of this Chicago outfit being another Bruce Lamont (of Yakuza and various saxophonic mercenary gigs) project, and while the man’s shamanistic vocals are very much a focal point of the album, I feel like the listener would be better off approaching this with a posture of willful ignorance of the band members’ identities and roles. I don’t mean this as dismissive or disrespectful, but there’s just something appealing about hearing this as the pulsating expression of a whole mess of people making a whole mess of sounds into something stark and lovely. I’ve drug up the list of members, but no clue who plays what, where, and why, and that’s just ace by me.
The press clippings have made out like this is some lusher chamber version of Swans or Godflesh, but the truth is this is neither monochromatic nor authoritarian enough to reflect that bleak grime of New York circa 1982 or Birmingham circa 1989. “Fallen” hints at this no-wave / doom cascade, but only in half-glimpsed outlines – the unrelenting one-two-one-two piston stomp gets a slight but crucial makeover with two double-time beats on the fourth count. Gira quails; Broadrick is made flaccid from the shock. If anything, the lead-off track is a bit reminiscent of Neurosis’s piano-backed gut dirges from Souls At Zero or Enemy of the Sun, with the guitars playing plenty of tremolo and the vocals careening and snorting along.
Just as you figure you’ve got the band’s number, though, “Coh” starts off like an especially sedate cut from Tomahawk’s underrated Anonymous, all murmurs and distant chants, with pick edges slowly creeping down guitar strings like flags at half-mast from some long-forgotten war. This ambience flows seamlessly into “Pastures,” which trips at just the right pace across the inevitable sepia-toned film playing in your mind, with the toms miming the march of tumbleweeds, and the piano’s cadence dredging our collective unconscious of all references to dust-caked gold rush saloons.
“Dead Inside” is the clear centerpiece, and a real highlight. It’s especially rewarding to follow the different guitar tracks through separate stereo channels, especially the great mid-section starting around the five-minute mark, while the discordant piano and distant hollering is vaguely reminiscent of the very earliest Current 93 albums. The tension-building quiet section around seven minutes in has a patient bass and drum build that recalls Tool circa Lateralus. Errant squeals and squelches like lost radio transmissions pollute the spectrum while the rhythmic pulse carries the squall unceasingly onward, into what white oblivion none can say.
Bloodiest is a band born of our great grey city of Chicago, and definitely drinks from the same well of classic industrial influence as other recent Relapse signees such as Circle Of Animals and The High Confessions. Bloodiest is more ostensibly metal than either of those two, but perhaps nowhere is this industrial streak more pronounced than in the way the vocals are seemingly mashed on top of the solid-frame songs, often in slightly arrhythmic and ill-fitting ways. Not enough to be distracting, but more than enough to be satisfyingly discomfiting. At just a sliver of a saxophone reed under 39 minutes, Descent is one of those rare albums that I wish was actually longer. I’m certainly not inviting it to overstay its welcome, but these sprawling sounds and trancelike rhythms beg for a sit-down journey of an album (whether accompanied by tea and scones or peyote and raw meat is your prerogative). On the strength of this debut, however, I’ll gladly play supplicant at the next ritual; just don’t tell me the names of the priests and priestesses.