Let’s begin with a pair of tentative maxims:
1) If you only ever look for the new—the cutting edge, the bold, the progressive, the iconoclastic—in music, you are likely a sad-hearted doofus who has never grinned uncontrollably when the explosion that ends “Fight Fire with Fire” squeals into the stomp-beat intro of “Ride the Lightning.”
2) If you don’t feel a thrill race down your spine when you happen across something truly exciting and unexpected in music, you are likely a sad-hearted doofus who clings to orthodoxy for its own sake and who has never once busted a collectible figurine out of its original packaging.
The new album from Brazil’s Deafkids is an answer to no particular unposed question. I can’t tell you that it splits the difference between our two maxims. If the job of the critic is to tell you whether you should enjoy it, then every one of these words will prove woefully delinquent. But by God, you should listen to this.
But how to go on, really? Metaprogramação is the Brazilian band’s second full-length album, and second release on Neurot Recordings (following a 2017 EP on that label). The closest ballpark of a genre is probably crust, but that’s almost more in spirit than sound, because while Metaprogramação is certainly raw and aggressive, it is also hallucinatory, fragmented, psychedelic, and almost bordering on stream of consciousness. It is, above all else, difficult music that is somehow easy to process. You very well might hate it!
Album open “Vox Dei” opens sounding like some kind of throat-singing ritual piece, but the deeply reverbed vocals are eventually blended seamlessly into increasingly abrasive noise and studio trickery that spins around the stereo field before you realize, oh shit, now we’re on the next song. “Alucinações de Comando” tastes a little like a drumming showcase, but it also keeps robotic vocals near at hand while fritzing guitars squiggle behind them. It’s not really until “Mente Bicameral,” the album’s fourth song, that Deafkids moves into anything particularly resembling metal. But even then, it’s like a cut and paste and photocopied to washed-out oblivion version – the guitar waves a sassy strut around, then leans back to let the rudimentary d-beat drumming (plus timbales or some other higher-tuned instrument) take over.
At times, the album hovers in a zone of such spectral, freely wandering exploration that it feels like an hallucinatory mirroring of Aluk Todolo’s Voix. “Templo do Caos” is one of the most engaging (or perhaps least intentionally alienating) songs, but even then, its toothy rhythmic hook always dances just a few paces out of reach and never explodes into the type of crescendo our ears have been trained to expect. One of the most interesting things about the album—and perhaps a hallmark of the great melting pot of Caribbean and West African musical forms alongside indigenous styles and practices in Brazil—is that there’s almost never really a “lead” voice or instrument. There’s plenty of both unison and polyrhythms, but whenever a single voice burbles to the top of the mix, it’s brief. Even the vocals, for example, rarely seem to be forming words, and instead exist as masked whispers or gnashed-teeth shouts that are sampled and treated as percussively as Blixa Bargeld on Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Negativ Nein.”
“Raíz Negativa (Não-Vontade)” is built around a wicked groove that loops chattering guitar and loose, flailing drums atop what sounds like processed saxophone in the mold of Colin Stetson. Here, and in many other points, the album strikes a sinister, backsliding, modal posture, like a version of Kind of Blue played by crust punk dirtbags weaned on old school industrial. So what? The last proper track “Espiras da Loucura II” is another jam with many hand drums and tambourine that occasionally breaks into a heavier crashing cadence, but that generally sinks into its groove and gradually pulsates within that terrain.
I do not know precisely what Deafkids intended on Metaprogramação, so I cannot comment on whether they have succeeded. To these ears, the album is a wholly fresh and inventive way to repurpose many sounds. Even more intriguing, though, is the way that those many sounds never quite cohere into a single whole. Metaprogramação is a subversive little album, because it always seems to be just on the verge of becoming something definable, only to melt away into static and dissipating rhythms that fall through your grasping mastery of them like patient, unconquerable water finding the tiniest crack or warp or weakness in a foundation, and gradually claiming a space for itself.
Rather than wear you down through an erosion of will, though, Deafkids on this wildly assured album seem more interested in building you up by helping to question whether the teleology of a structure that realizes the promise of its blueprint actually prevents you from seeing the beauty in the unmaking, the new branching, the forever unfinishing completion.