Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Alchemical Mixture - Hell Comes Home Vol. 1 Box Set (album review + short interview)

Twelve 7" split singles featuring 24 of the noisiest, filthiest downtuned bands one is likely to hear in a single collection.  Coming in a just a shade under two hours long there's no easy way to sum up any overall feelings or impressions about this mammoth undertaking from Galway, Ireland based label Hell Comes Home, so we'll take it slowly.  "The only way to exit / Is going piece by piece".

As mentioned earlier, it's a lot to take when looking at the menu all at once.  There were familiar bands: Thou, Fight Amp, Coffinworm, Fistula; bands that I had first heard of here, whom I later became better acquainted with: Kowloon Walled City and Dopefight; and eighteen others that I had been ignorant of.  Soon, it was time to put down the menu  and say, "I'll have one of everything."  Only one question remained, did I have the rugged constitution to stomach such a heavy load?

The 7" split singles themselves were released on bandcamp, two at a time, sporadically at first beginning in mid-March, then with increasing regularity between June and September.  We'll march through all 24 sides in order of release.  The first of them is from Kowloon Walled City and Thou.

KOWLOON WALLED CITY "July" - "July" is a cover version of the song from Low's 'Thing We Lost in the Fire' album by San Francisco based quartet Kowloon Walled City.  The surprising thing here is the vocals by Lisa Papineau.  It's just not what one expects to hear for those that know KWC as an experimental / noise band and it's a different kind of experience to hear the band handle such melodic and structured material.  The original version of this song by Low is very subdued, mellow, even depressed.  There's none of that feeling here.  Again, it's very melodic and quite enjoyable.  THOU "4th of July" - "4th of July" is a cover of the Soundgarden song by Baton Rouge-based sludge band Thou.  The song starts off as an almost note perfect rendition thanks in large part to the vocalist who puts in a very Cornellian performance.  On the second verse regular Thou vocalist Bryan Funck's familiar growl comes in for a duet and lends the song a semblance of familiarity for fans of the band and disorientation for Soundgarden fans.  One single in and the listener is already bruised and confused, nothing is familiar, all has been perverted.

« SUMA "Geisteskrank" - The second split fades in with the drone sludge gang from Malmo, Sweden crashing and wailing.  A haunting and distant soudning riff spills across the surface of the track, seeping into all the nooks and crannies and smothering everything else.  They say drowning is a relatively pleasant experience and that holds up here.  The song is as insane as the title suggests.  ULTRAPHALLUS "Young Bones" - This Liege, Belgium based quartet open up the blast furnace to unleash a heavier than thou droning riff to rival the tone and feeling of split companions Suma's offering.  One can almost hear the flesh boiling and melting away beneath the surface of the track.  Though there's not a lot going on structurally in terms of changes in riff and tempo, there's a lot going on in terms of mood and the listener fills in the blanks.

DEPHOSPHORUS "Stargazing and Violence" - Greek trio Dephosphorus' side is an ultra aggressive example of the style of blackened post-hardcore death metal they have termed astrogrind.  The track opens up with a death metal blast beat but gears down to a more ... ahem, sensible tempo which is more to my liking.  The blackened riff anchors the song until vocalist Panos Agoros stops screaming and begins singing.  This song is all about claustrophobic atmosphere.  GREAT FALLS "Everything But Lightning" - This Seattle hardcore / noise trio is well paired with Dephosphorus.  From the latter band's sweeping blast beat attack to Great Falls' almost nonsensical absurdity there's quite a contradiction is terms of sound but not of style.  The riffs seem to have been randomly plucked from the Otherworld or accidentally bumped into by a clumsy elbow, but the madcap approach works because drummer Phil Petrocelli sells it well.

« AKANAME "Rain Will Be The New Gold" - This Australian based experimental instrumental combo from Wellington take a cue from Great Falls and turn the 'weird rhythms' nob up to 11.  "Rain Will Be The New Gold" is a reference to a worldwide drought after a Great Disaster and this Frankenstein's monster of clashing rhythms and styles is well-suited to depict this.  One might imagine time lapse images of vegetable and animal matter rotting and drying up quite easily with this evocative and busy song playing.  LEBIAN'S FUNGAL ABYSS "Humongous Fungus" - Fungal Abyss is an outgrowth of Seattle doom band Lesbian.  Fungal Abyss is a platform for the four guys in Lesbian to let their ambient / shoegaze hair down and drone / bliss out.  "Humongous Abyss" is a static minimalist instrumental offering.

PYRAMIDO "Cleansed" - This is an interesting split.  Of this release Pyramido said on their blog that "Our song ended up on a split with Union of Sleep from Germany. Our song being the slowest one we have done so far teamed up with the fastest one they've ever written."  Well, take the band's word for it, it is slow.  Slow and monolithic like continental drift, it always seems like the slower a song the more massive it feels.  UNION OF SLEEP "Crawl" - Union of Sleep's entry features sludgy guitars and thrashy drums.  No clean vocals in this set, Union of Sleep is just flaking with filth, the ultra thick distortion and vocals shoved rudely by an angry diaphragm through a smoke burnt throat create a filthy tone, the drums offer a brutal attack.

« BURNING LOVE "The Body" - The next single features two of the bigger name bands in the set.  Burning Love offers up a blazing dollop of pounding rock and roll.  A whirling dervish-y riff with an insistent floor tom spank propel the listener through four and a half minutes of chaos which feels like two.  Excellent stuff from this quintet from the Big Smoke.  FIGHT AMP "Shallow Grave" - And the pounding continues with a syncopated bludgeoning of hardcore punk and roll noisemaking from this New Jersey trio.  These two songs are quite similar in tone and sound and appear to be of a single mind thematically as well, as the listener is first introduced to the body, then makes a short trip to the shallow grave it is dumped in.

COFFINWORM "Instant Death Syndrome" - Indianapolis, Indiana's Coffinworm offers an impentrable wall of headaches and futility, blackened banshee guitars and drums like an insane ghost banging on the bedroom door.  It's the sound of terror fogging the mind and clouding judgment.  The band experiments with various tempos from the blast beat to the funeral dirge, before the beast is ultimately swamped in a tar pit and dies gurgling.  « FISTULA "Drugs and Deception" - Leave it to the prolific trio from Cleveland to offer the best riff of the whole bunch.  After wave after intoxicatingly deadly wave of noise, sturm und drang, Fistula grounds this set back into reality and the listener finds himself back on solid ground to brace for another rush.

THE SWAN KING "Between the Lines" - Much like Fistula in the previous release, Chicago based trio The Swan King center and ground things with some heavy rock and roll riffing.  A pulsing rhythm with bursts and flares and a great riff open things up for an exciting build-up and conclusion.  TELLUSIAN "The Coldest of Seasons" - Swedish grindcore quartet Tellusian take the listener and throw him back down the well of despair again. Constantly changing rhythms and discordant guitars create an air of paranoia and uncertainty, a claustrophobia amplified by the relative 'safety' of the flip.

DUKATALON "Mainline" - 'Hell Comes Home Volume 1' has got to be a collection of the 12 rudest, noisiest slabs of wax to ever scare the shit out of listeners and toy with their emotions yet.  Israeli trio Dukatalon do their share to add a pummeling to the noisefest, but Roy Ben Samuel's bass work stands out and creates a focal point.  Like a light on the shore that a drowning man can see to focus on and try to swim towards.  The chaotically thrashing crash cymbals really do give this song the sense of drowning too as flailing arms might strike the water.  RITES "Barren" - Here comes a hometown band to the mix.  Galway, Ireland's Rites deliver a pounding ascending rhythm that infuses the track with a ton of energy.  Ever evolving rhythms and tempos create an expansive soundscape that is shifted like light through a prism into a tight and confined space by the aggressive vocals and guitar.

BLACK SUN "Crawling Like a Leech" - Glasgow band Black Sun pulses and wails into their side.  Discordant melodies and a dominate bassline like waves of destructive force.  Halfway through the band finds a groove and rides it out through to the end.  The songs is a study in noise exploration leading to a deep and concentrated focus.  Tremendous stuff.  THROAT "Anal Paranoid" - This is the kind of song title that promises great discomfort.  I take one look at it and think "I want nothing to do with this".  Then the song starts and it's all jackhammer rhythms and shouting.  Discordant guitars leading to a wall of noise.  Turku based Throat know how to grab the listener's attention and match the music to the feeling of the title.

« DOPEFIGHT "Stonk" - This turned out to be the last officially released song by the band.  They have since released the demo of their second album as a free download only after the band broke up.  Real shame.  "Stonk" moves from doom sludge to stoner with terrific dynamism beginning with a snail paced funk, then gearing upwards into stoner groove territory and closing on a desert rocking guitar solo.  THE FUCKING WRATH "Ronald Reagan Punk Party" - This one starts with a (heavily edited?) speech by (a) Ronald Reagan (impersonator?) promoting the use of drugs so as to leave no doubt about this song's philosophical foundation.  The Californian quartet run through various tempos and styles from doomy to thrashy and it makes one wonder if tempo is the only difference between genres of punk / metal.  These two tracks are very well paired.

DEAD ELEPHANT "Carne De Perro" - Italian post-hardcore trio Dead Elephant let off with a chaotic storm of discordant strikes, coming in at full blast, stepping into the room like an axe-wielding maniac.  Three minutes in the song breaks down and the maniac is left alone with the mess he and his axe have created.  "Carne De Perro" unleashes a shitstorm of violence and consequences, most of its length dedicated to picking up the pieces and rebuilding with general heavy atmosphere and floor tom.  RABBITS "War, Oh My" - On the final side of the entire project, Portland noise / thrash / punk trio Rabbits let loose with a grand anthemic statement, almost in the "Feel Like I'm Fixin To Die" vein or "Give Peace a Chance" with its grand final statement of a chorus repeated multiple times until the song eventually winds down and gives way to warsome noise.

So, there it is, 'Hell Comes Home Volume 1'.  By the end, after a two hour meal in the abyss of noise, discord and filth the belt comes undone and the chair begins to creak.  It all goes down well, if not easily, and despite being a bit stuffed, it's quite a satisfying meal.  Truth is I didn't burn through all these singles in one sitting but took my time with each one as they were meant to be enjoyed.  Taking an overview  however, there is a satisfying tonal similarity between many of the splits with an equally satisfying degree of variation, but the overall impression or final conclusion is that it's an exhaustive two hour trip through a sludge-filled and punk encrusted hell of noise, wherein one doesn't always keep a solid footing and sometimes ends up on hands and knees, face in the thick tar-like mire.  It would be nice, perhaps, if this collection left one with an uplifting message to close out on along the lines of "there is no heaven without hell, no joy without pain" etc., but that's not what this label is all about.  Hell Comes Home and when the listener gets to the end of the tunnel, an abyss awaits at the end, courtesy of Rabbits.

Remember, too, that each of the splits is also available for purchase individually as well as a set of twelve.



As a special bonus, here's a bit of 'after dinner conversation' with Joel, the man who brought hell home.

1). Hi Joel, how did this project first begin?

Hi Lucas! I had recently relocated from Switzerland to Ireland, didn't have a job, didn't have a band, and I needed something to keep busy. I had been playing around with the idea for a while, and since I had a lot of free time I decided to give it a go. The rest is history…

2). How would you say the finished product differed from the initial concept, if at all?

To be honest, it's pretty much close to the initial idea. Esthetically, there is only the box that is not exactly what I had in mind, since I'm building them myself - it gives them a nice diy touch though. The line-up of course is not 100% what I had in mind when I started, but I knew that I wasn't going to be able to get exactly all bands I wanted. Don't get me wrong, this not a bad thing at all, because of all the last minute cancellations and other bad timings I was introduced to some really cool bands, which is what it's all about.

3). Is there a unifying theme to this project, aside from the cover art and / or overall genres?

Well, I guess I'm the unifying theme since I was curating the line-up. You could see it as a way to share my love of this kind of music and to promote lesser known bands that are just as good as the better known ones. I tried as well to keep a fair balance between European bands and American bands. This is an effort to expose European bands to an American audience and vice versa. The bottom line is to release quality music, on a quality support.

4). If this is 'Volume 1', when might listeners expect to see a 'Volume 2'?

I have no idea. The only thing that I'm sure of, is that I'm not going to rush into a second volume. I will first learn the lessons from my mistakes with the first volume, and when the time is right I will get to work on a second volume. But yes, I'd love to release a volume 2. The thing is, as you can imagine, it takes a lot of time and resources…

5). Are there any other project in the pipeline at Hell Comes Home?

I'm working on releasing an album with a band from volume 1, I'm hoping that we can have it out sometimes before the summer. That's all I can tell for now...

For more of Joel, read this fine interview from Metal Ireland.

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