Rigorous Institution – Cainsmarsh Review

Release date: May 8, 2022. Label: Black Water Records.
Portland’s Rigorous Institution first hit my radar via the ever impressive efforts of Last Rites’ alum Craig Hayes and his dauntless study of all things crust, grind, punk, D-beat, et cetera In Crust We Trust, a feature we were very lucky to have under our roof from 2019 through 2020. The bad news: Craig stepped away from LR a while back to catch up on / throw a few haymakers at life, leaving us all very sad. The good news: He’s since decided to continue lionizing all that’s loud & filthy over at his recently reanimated mainstay Six Noises, making us all very glad. (Added bonus: Those familiar with In Crust We Trust will be pleased to see its format continued with the ongoing Six Noises feature Tomorrow’s Ashes, so get ready to abuse your bandcamp wishlists again.)

Right. Suffice to say, I likely would never have experienced the, um, “pleasure” of Rigorous Institution without Craig’s services, stressing an interpretation of pleasure that’s inextricably linked to the joys of having one’s head blistered into slag by a form of apocalyptic punk that’s feasibly good-hearted enough to use a human’s bountiful remains as fertilizer for some kindly PNW trees.

Exclusive tip numero uno: You can and absolutely should sidle on over to the Six Noises review of Cainsmarsh, as Craig will give you every bit of information you could ever hope to uncover regarding the record, delivered from the vantage of an individual who’s spent enough years digging through every nook of the punk scene that his skin is now literally molting into a studded Totalitär jacket. However, if you’re the sort of rotted cavedweller who simply can’t resist reading takes on troublesome racket written by fellow rotted cavedwellers who can’t help but get inspired by said racket, I offer you the following…

Who is Rigorous Institution? They are a band comprised of five members: Savonarola on vocals, Squid on guitar, Shite on bass (nice), Malönezøne on drums, and The Imp on synths. However, there’s next-to-nothing to uncover regarding officially declared influences, related projects, or favorite Morty Seinfeld moments available via any sort of social media presence, so I choose to assume they happen to be grim liches reincarnated from the OG 1977 Monster Manual masquerading as humans living in Portland. I am always, and I mean always, right about such intuitions.

What is Rigorous Institution? Now here’s where things get interesting. Rigorous Institution is a punk band that conjures flashbacks to an age when caustic crust such as Amebix, Axegrinder, Deviated Instinct, et al. roamed and conquered the apocalyptic mid-to-late ‘80s hellscape. Accordingly, expect a prominent underscoring of grim atmosphere, plus the additional benefit of a form of post-industrial noise not unlike early Killing Joke painting much of the corners. The end result generates an exceedingly fiendish, sometimes slow, sometimes wildly speedy, totally smoke-choked romp that feels more fearsome than Reverend Henry Kane suddenly knocking on your basement door at 3am. Not sure if the level of ghastliness achieved here was fully intentional, but it certainly seems so, which ends up shrouding Cainsmarsh in enough of a grim metal-ness that, given a twist of a few more degrees in some unspecified direction, could land Rigorous Institution on a curious tour alongside a band such as, say, Moenen of Xezbeth. It’s still 100% punk, mind you, but let’s just say it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see members of the band wearing a Mortuary Drape or Obsessed by Cruelty shirt on stage.

A song like “Laughter” does a wonderful job of conveying the comprehensive “smoke-choked Apocalypse” impression that hovers over the full 30-minutes of the record. The song comes out of the gate with a blower bass spitting corrosive exhaust, and then it quickly settles into a filthy, doomy strut that’s just dripping with oil and contagion. Actually, “oily” happens to be an especially good descriptor for a lot of what goes down, as the whole of Cainsmarsh leaves the listener feeling as if a full brick of charcoal soap might be necessary after repeated listens. The vocals here are exceptionally grisly and asphyxiating, barking like Nocturno Culto rotting in a humid dungeon, and right there above all that hellish howling floats a very unique form of atmospheric synths that hover like a plague wind. Then, right around the 1:30 mark, BOOM—off the song speeds like a choked, wounded Fury Road vehicle that refuses to sacrifice a single fraction of its hurtling energy.

More about them keys. Punk and crust are certainly no strangers to the sorts of synths heard throughout Cainsmarsh, but Rigorous Institution absolutely use them to their maximum advantage. They cast a ghoulish and gothic pall over everything, whether it be the slower, more molten measures (of which there are many), the noisier breakouts (save for the delightful but extraordinarily uncomfy “Criminal Betrayers”), and even within the record’s most breakneck bruiser “Tempt Fate… And Win!”, which happens to leap from the gate like a lost bonus track from Sodom’s Persecution Mania before settling into a demonic charge.

Pretty straightforward bottom line: If you love the sort of punk that makes for a suitable soundtrack to armageddon—one that includes a bird’s-eye view of individuals responsible for unnecessary hardships such as endless wars, pollution, animal cruelty, myriad gross social inequities, et al. falling beneath the inexorable grip of doomsday’s impossibly heavy and relentless tank treads—you will want to get Rigorous Institution’s Cainsmarsh on your radar. This record delivers the sort of crusty and hellish din that appeals to the more metal-minded in the same way Deviated Instinct’s Rock ’n’ Roll Conformity did and continues to do today, and it would also have made an extremely fitting third wheel for the Acknowledge the Confusion Master / Rise of the Serpent Men shindig thrown by Prophecy of Doom and Axegrinder way back in 1990. Despite its adherence to a very classic form of Apocalyptic punk power, however, there also exists a palpable modernness that’s largely tied to the way the band manages to sew all this hell together alongside those towering synths. It’s a captivating and rewardingly appalling experience, and it’s one you will find yourself happily returning to time and time again.

Photo by ANDREW COMPTON

Posted by Captain

Last Rites Co-Owner; Senior Editor; I got the Wordle in 1 guess; Just get evil all the time.

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