The music of Cranial is primeval. It connects with elemental aspects of humankind that stretch back tens of millennia, to some unrecorded time when our ancestors had barely formed the rudiments of speech but stomped and writhed about the bonfires they had learned to make, the only accompaniment to their howling rites the pounding of stone on stone and the rhythms of the hammering blood in their veins. But cast in more modern forms, the creations of Cranial become demolition machines, vastly more powerful and destructive than their primal antecedents, yet still rooted in the sensations or fear and exultation that have always been intrinsic to our species, the fear of death, the defiance of living.
If you think that opening paragraph sounds hyperbolic, then listen to “Faint Voice” and decide for yourselves. Those of you who have encountered this German band’s previous releases won’t need convincing, and can simply revel in these 12 1/2 extravagant minutes. Newcomers might need a bit of preparation, which of course we’re happy to provide. The preparation begins by advising you not to be misled by the title of this song, which will appear on Cranial’s second album, Alternate Endings. There is a reason for the title, but there is almost nothing faint about the music.
When we reviewed Cranial’s 2017 debut full-length, Dark Towets / Bright Lights, we observed that “although only a mere four songs long, every track on this album is dominated by a series of massive, monolithic riffs that pummel you with all the relentless power and unstoppable momentum of an avalanche in slow-motion”. We further remarked about its combination of bleak and brooding atmosphere, the almost machine-like intensity of the piston-powered rhythms, the sudden spasms of distorted dissonance or unexpected digressions into ominous, unsettling ambience, the tumult and the terror it channeled, the volatile, high-voltage riffs, and the smoldering, ashen melodies.
The prospect of another album by Cranial provoked shudders in these quarters — the shudder of anticipatory excitement, and something like the instinctive shudder that might come just before being struck in the neck by a sledgehammer. “Faint Voice” pays off on the anticipation of excitement, because Cranial again connect with the primeval parts of our brain — and their sound is again bone-smashing.
This new song slowly swells from silence, and becomes a stormfront of roiling, slashing chords and rampant drumming. And then, giant hammer blows of drum and bass and clanging guitars come down, with skin-splitting howls piercing through that sonic titanism. The drums begin to gallop and batter, the guitars ring out in frenzied, fire-bright ebulience. Those titanic rhythms, drawing strength from a bass that sounds truly massive, gradually slow to a lurching, groaning stomp, while spectral sounds vibrate from the guitar strings like wraiths freed from their arcane chains.
The intensity rarely relents, but the first bridge is a brief subsidence — followed by crushing, pile-driver impacts, with caustic howls and a melody that moans and wails (you can envision raised hands begging for reprieve from calamity). Spoken words emerge over the continuation of the spinal trauma produced by the relentless rhythm, which becomes even more methodically brutish, joined with shrill guitar eruptions.
There’s another bridge, this one more dreamlike and exotic, but one that also creates a feeling of tension. The drums begin to pound and the bass to clang again, and they give the music a beating heart while the guitar flickers in a fashion that’s meditative but anxious. You can feel the tension building again as the volume swells, and then it subsides. But that turns out to be a head-fake, because without warning the demolition job resumes with renewed determination, as Cranial mete out new body-bruising, bone-fracturing, neck-snapping, piston-driven punishment, with jagged and pulsing fretwork combining with the rock-crushing, gravel-chewing bass to get your head moving, eyes closed, lost in the experience like our ancestors must have been, around the fire, tens of millennia ago.
Alternate Endings will be released on September 27th by Moment of Collapse, on LP nd CD formats. Limited tape editions will be released by Sludgelord and Hand of Death Records. Cranial describe the album as a work “about loss, fear and desperation but also about rise and hope”. And take it from us, you can feel all of that in this music.
Michael Melchers (guitar, ex-Omega Massif)
Julian Weidhaus (bass, vocals)
Cornelius Merlin (drums)
Sebastian Kröckel (guitar)
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