Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Body - No One Deserves Happiness

It was a real treat to take our first reader request and try my hand at something outside my normal radar. I'd never heard anything by The Body before, and avant garde sludge has never been my go-to style of music, so I decided to go in blind and avoid reading any buzz or reviews. On first impression, the cover says it all: grimy, minimalist, but with a clear dedication to a simple message. As promised there isn't a moment of happiness in the album, but it explores a lot of ugly emotions in an often beautiful way.

The guitar tone is a lo-fi halfway point between distortion and fuzz, and I can't help but think back to my own ill-fated attempts at playing metal on a Fender Jaguar just because it looked cool. But there's also a careful orchestration to the album's soundscape, and the low fidelity almost becomes an instrument in own right, with a rhythmic drone that kept reminding me of slow waves crashing against a shore. The occasional bells and string sections add a nice bit of variety to the atmosphere without compromising the griminess of the guitars, which is something I haven't gotten to say since I discovered gothic metal. The pounding drum machines are a hit and miss element, helping build the mood at times, distracting from it at others.

In true noise rock fashion, the album throws out some initially annoying industrial sound effects with an admirable confidence that they'll work if you give it time. And they more or less do work, but like a lot of noise and drone, it can also come off very grating if you're not in just the right frame of mind. One frequent noise in particular left me wanting to strangle the demon rooster making them half the time. Still, an album that can make me warm up to that sound even a little bit deserves some credit.

When the guest vocals kick in, they feel like a nice blend of psychedelic rock and stoner metal, with a dark ritual vibe that would feel at home in bands like Royal Thunder, Avatarium, or Subrosa. On The Fall and the Guilt, closest thing to a conventional song on this record, she sounds absolutely hyponotic. In contrast, Chip King's death vocals perfectly match the album's harsh atomosphere. The best tracks on this album are the ones like Hallow/Hollow and Starving Deserter that manage a balanced interplay of both. If there's one thing No One Deserves Happiness excels at it's building up to crescendos of tense dread like the soundtrack to a horror movie that's half ghost story and half low-budget slasher. I can't say much about the lyrics except that most of the songs work best as abstract mood pieces.

Ultimately, the top tracks on No One Deserves Happiness would have made for an absolutely hellish EP (in the best possible way) but a few missteps turn it into a good, sometimes great, but just as often flawed album. It could be that I'm simply not the target audience for this kind of album - experimental drone metal is certainly a niche within a niche. All the same, there's something admirable about this kind of dedication to a rarely appreciated craft.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5

Also, not that this has any bearing on the album, but it has to be said. After writing this review I did a little research on the band and learned that they were both once members on the Blue Man Group. Just let that sink in.

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