Chicago is one of America’s great cities, but in terms of its various interlocking music scenes, it operates more like a small town. The different genres can all exist and thrive independently, on their own, but there always seems to be some level of crossover — people with friends in the different scenes, people who are willing to work with each other in the right circumstances. Many of the city’s creative types seem to live in the same neighborhoods and attend the same drunken street fairs. That doesn’t mean that you’ll find Lil Durk hanging out at Wilco’s loft, but it does mean that the city can, from time to time, cough up some surprising hybrid beasts. Consider, if you will, Yakuza, the great Chicago metal band whose frontman Bruce Lamont is a shamanic fire-eyed figure who sometimes makes terrifying bleating noises on a saxophone. Yakuza have worked with Chicago jazz musicians like Ken Vandermark and Hamid Drake, and they’ve done it without sounding any less heavy . And Lamont also leads Bloodiest, a band grounded in Chicago’s metal scene but so loose and astrally-inclined that they don’t really have a genre to call their own.
Bloodiest have one of the greatest, most metal names I’ve seen on any band recently, and they’ve also got Lamont, one of the greatest frontmen in underground metal right now. But they aren’t really a metal band. Cayce Key, their drummer, also plays in the crypto-prog band 90 Day Men. Colin DeKuiper, the bassist, used to be in the instrumental power trio Russian Circles. On their new self-titled sophomore album, Bloodiest bring the sort of megaton catharsis that you want from a metal band. And it’s more metal than it is anything else. But their sound also draws from psych, prog, post-rock, and the sort of clanging and cathartic postpunk that Swans do better than anyone else. And look: The Swans comparison is not one I make lightly. You have to be pretty fucking intense to warrant a Swans namecheck. And Bloodiest are pretty fucking intense.
Bloodiest’s songs are based in riffage, and that riffage is weapons-grade, ready to annihilate. Guitarist Tony Lazzara co-produced the album with Chicago mainstay Sanford Parker, who is right behind Converge’s Kurt Ballou in the “world’s greatest metal producer” rankings. Riffs are probably the thing they do best, and they know this. The album’s first track “Mesmerize” opens with a tricky, thundering prog riff, the sort of thing that you can easily imagine Tool doing. But then things get weird. Lamont, who never sings in Metal Voice on Bloodiest, starts hollering mystic nonsense about “Josephine the gypsy,” who apparently is a fortune-teller. All these discordant guitar-stabs keep working to interrupt things. The bass goes from being a timekeeping instrument to a simple wall of noise. And eventually, ominous keyboard drones come in and add chaos to everything. By the time the song’s five minutes are up, it’s become a towering obelisk of sound, an unhinged sludge-monster.
That’s the way things go on this album. Lamont multi-tracks his voice so that he sounds like a horde of Gregorian monks. Ominous, crackly old-timey horror-movie dialog samples come along to fill out the ambiance. Riffs repeat so often, on seven- or eight-minute songs, that they come to take on a certain devotional, almost religious quality. The sound is always thick and sludgy and huge. It’s organic but detailed. The mix bursts with all these tiny little sounds and effects. But as grand and orchestrated as these songs might be, they’re always built around groove. Bloodiest don’t rush. Speed is not a concern for them. Instead, all these different interlocking parts come together, working like a beautiful machine. Bloodiest is a headphones album, one beautifully suited for going into a deep, immersive headnod state when you don’t want to talk to anyone. It’s bleak and vast and merciless, which is to say it’s a perfect winter album.
On a busier release week — like, say, next week — I might not have even bothered with something as far underground as this Bloodiest album. I might’ve been too busy processing all the music from the better-known bands. That would’ve been a mistake. Slow release weeks, like this one, are great for catching this deeply impressive music that could’ve otherwise slipped through the cracks. An album like Bloodiest — or like Anderson .Paak’s sun-dazed neo-soul cratedigger opus Malibu, which I also recommend — deserves to be heard. Next week, there are five or six big-name indie bands dropping new records, and the internet opinion-machine will rumble to life again. Take advantage of the short break and listen to some music that might’ve otherwise passed you by.
Bloodiest is out 1/15 on Relapse. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out today:
• Anderson .Paak’s breezy, virtuosic stoner-soul opus Malibu.
• Molly Drag’s lo-fi lethargy-wallow Tethered Rendering.
• Lycus’ funeral doom dirge Chasms.
• Jeb Loy Nichols’ idiosyncratic country-folker Ya Smell Me?
• Julia Brown’s intimate, shimmery An Abundance Of Strawberries.
• Nick Monaco & David Marston’s funky tropical postcard Island Life.
• Guy Blakeslee’s mystic drifting-guitar album The Middle Sister.
• Little Shalimar’s Rubble Kings soundtrack.
• Soda’s Without A Head EP.