(In this review Andy Synn catches up with the new album by Fawn Limbs, which was released on September 18th in various formats by Roman Numeral Records, Wolves And Vibrancy Records, Dark Trail Records, and Sludgelord Records.)
While many sites, zines, and publications (especially print publications) have already transitioned into “End of Year” mode, we here at NCS are still out there, scouring the interweb for new bands and new albums to bring to your attention.
And it’s a good thing too, because while the release of Sleeper Vessels (the second album from the trans-Atlantic Tech-Grind trio Fawn Limbs) may have flown a little bit under the radar, its bastardised blend of squalling metallic noise, unsettling ambience, and distorted electronic effluent has the potential to throw a major wrench into the works when it comes to deciding what/who belongs on this year’s many “Best of…” lists.
As discordant, as demanding, and as defiantly difficult to categorise as this record is, there are certain points of reference – from the mind-bending technicality of Car Bomb and the pneumatic angularity of Ion Dissonance to the abrasive intensity of The Red Chord or the experimental extremity of Pig Destroyer – which, superficially at least, might make it a little bit easier to take in.
But the truth is that Sleeper Vessels is an album that positively thrives on sowing chaos and confusion at every possible moment, and there’s no real way to fully prepare yourself for this record’s catastrophic, kaleidoscopic assault upon the senses.
But I’ll do what I can. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.
From the anxiety-inducing opening of “The Irrelevance of an Exorcism” to the cacophonous climax of “The Gradience of Rescue and Exposition”, Fawn Limbs transform themselves, over the course of just under twenty-eight terrifying, tumultuous minutes, into a whirling dervish of destruction and disorder, one which zigs and zags, jerks and jags, with seemingly random, reckless abandon, whenever you least expect it.
But, the more that you listen to it the more you’ll come to discover that there’s a steely-eyed method behind the band’s apparent madness, meaning that, no matter how chaotic and confused things might get, everything is always (just) under control.
Don’t think for a second that “controlled” means “calculated” though. For while the group’s Mathcore roots may imply a certain level of calculation, there’s a level of spontaneity – almost an improvisational aspect – to Sleeper Vessels which tells you that this is music which comes from the bowels as much as the brain.
Take the auditory avalanche of off-kilter aggression and punishing percussion which makes up the first half of “Metrae”, for example, only to then shift, seemingly without warning, into a jolting, jagged-edged anti-groove. Or the tech-tastic Death-Grind of “The Vermin Massif”, which rapidly builds towards critical mass only to sidestep the expected explosion at the very last second by pivoting towards an eerie, pseudo-melodic prog-tinged finale.
Both these tracks find the trio (Eeli Helin – vocals/guitar, Lee Fisher – drums, Samuel Smith – bass) operating at an almost cellular level of symbiosis, all three acting and reacting in unison to unspoken, unconscious cues that neither you nor I would be able to anticipate or perceive.
And while, obviously, a lot of planning must have been involved (it must have… right?) to ensure that this entire musical machine doesn’t simply fly apart the second it starts spinning, the overall impression is of a record so volatile and unpredictable that you half expect it to be a little bit different each time you press play.
Thankfully, for my own sanity (and yours), that’s not the case, even if it does sometimes feels like it. In fact, if anything, the more I’ve found myself listening to it the more I’ve discovered just how horribly, virulently infectious this record is.
Whether it’s the lurching, live-wire attack of “Famine Vows”, the sandblasting, skin-stripping brutality and simmering, sinister ambience of “”Corruption Aperture”, or the elasticated riffs and dizzying percussive patterns of “A Swarm of Invertebrate Fauna”, the first half of Sleeper Vessels is just one brutally bombastic, maddeningly erratic, body-blow after the next, and yet somehow it’s impossible to stop listening to.
Even better (or even worse, depending on your perspective) the second half of the album gets even weirder, veering from the menacing atmospheric minimalism which infuses both the doom-laden “Haul These Bodies…” and the frantic, fractal riffing of “Ruiner”, to the glitchy, skittering beats and hyper-active distortion which warp both the tumultuous title track and the brutish, bone-shaking “Photovoltaic Hum” into something far stranger (though no less savage) as each song progresses.
That’s not to say that the album suddenly transforms into an Aphex Twin record, of course (though the vibe is certainly there), as the turbulent Tech Death meets gut-wrenching Grindcore of “Trespasser” and “Subtle Abuse” are amongst the nastiest, most unflinchingly abusive, surprises that Sleeper Vessels has to offer, while the grand finale of “The Gradience of Rescue and Exposition” delivers some of the most stunningly heavy riffs and gruesomely gargantuan vocals on the entire album.
It’s more that this combination of unapologetic unpredictability and (almost) unrelenting intensity makes Sleeper Vessels practically impossible to absorb all in one go, despite its relatively short-run time, meaning that you’ll likely find yourself coming back to it, again and again, ready and willing to take yet another beating, just for the opportunity to dig a little deeper, and absorb a little more punishment, the next time around.
And if that doesn’t sound like one of the best albums of the year to you… well, give it another try. It’ll break you eventually.
In the past my favorite parts of this band’s songs have been the quieter bits where the band clears out and Fisher gets to caress the kit, but this one really elevates the chaotic metal parts to a new level. Definitely has those Car Bomb or Frontierer vibes I can get behind. Nice review.
Off topic: have all of the metal blogs decided to get together as one and decline to cover the new Encenathrakh album? Because that thing is somethin’ else.
Funnily enough I’ve never really gotten the hype about Frontierer. They’re a good band, no doubt about it, but they’ve always just felt like a more extreme Djent band, at their core (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, by any means, but has, I think, contributed to them being a little over-hyped).
As for Encenathrakh, I’m afraid I/we can’t speak for other blogs – we don’t really have much of a relationship with them on the whole, though individually and informally we’re all friends with a few other writers – but it’s on my list/radar to check out, I simply haven’t had time!
1. I guess that’s fair. I think the same could be said of Car Bomb or CB Murdoc, who also play extreme djent and are pretty massively hyped. Personally of the three I’d pick Frontierer, because I like the heavier, chaotic mathcore focus, which I also hear from this Fawn Limbs album. I’m also partial to Sectioned, so maybe I just like the dude’s riffs.
2. I was being a little facetious about the blog conspiracy and fully recognize that Encenathrakh isn’t for everyone. I’m just a little surprised to see a Colin Marston project go under the radar. And I like it.
This was supposed to be a reply. Oops.
Ha, I know, don’t worry. I do that too sometimes.
I’m also pretty partial to Sectioned… again, more than Frontierer I think!