Review: HEADS. – s/t

Sonic Abuse

Oh hell yes, this is my sort of music. Distil the syrupy sound of the melvins, throw in the squally punk attitude of McLusky and stir it all up with a magic pinch of anarchy and you’ll have the Recipe for Heads, the Berlin-based band who are responsible for this debut release. Perfectly mixed by Coilguns lunatic Jona Nido and beautifully mastered by Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna), this self-titled LP is a stunning example of what the underground can achieve and it is a must have for anyone who worships at the altar of disaffected noise-mongers like the Melvins, Jesus Lizard and Sonic Youth.

The album opens with the sludge-bass groove of ‘a mural is worth a thousand words’, a menacing, skull-flattening piece of work that recalls Mclusky’s wonderful ‘…do Dallas’ album with its sneaky guitar lines and half-spoken, half screamed vocals. As an album opener it’ll either have you hooked, and ready to worship at the band’s collective feet, or running a mile. Guess which side of the fence I’m on. Next up is the brilliantly titled ‘chewing on kittens’ which sounds like a cross between ‘night goat’ and Tom Waits. It’s fabulously dirty, suspiciously groovy and delivered like the last will and testament of a disillusioned preacher on the run with a bottle of whiskey and a lascivious nun. Throughout the guitars spit and burn, the drums are a disturbing rumble and the vocals whisper uneasy thoughts deep into your conscious, leaving you broken and confused. Now thoroughly locked into your brain, the band continue their mission to diminish your soul with ‘skrew’ which sounds like Nick Cave at his most intoxicated fronting Oxbow. There is little in the way of redemption here, just a gaping crimson vortex leading to the underworld beckoning, always, for you to follow. So much for the first side of the album, if you’re listening on vinyl, as it spins to its end, you’ll be lucky to still have your sanity.

‘Black river’ is a song with a lighter touch, and the first one to lead with guitar rather than bass (not that the band’s cruelly distorted bass monster isn’t lurking around, just waiting to tear into you) and, with its dark lyricism and drawled vocals the track recalls a mix of Rollins Band, Nick Cave and QOTSA. It’s the sound of fatigue given its own unique sound, and the somnambulant drums which power the track keep the pace hypnotic rather than hyperactive, always sucking the listener further into the Heads’ pool of sludge. At six minutes, the real trick that Heads pull off is keeping the interest whilst delivering a musical arrangement that is Spartan to say the least. What is important here, however, is what the band don’t use and the spaces between notes speak volumes in the parched dry, bleached-bon desolation the band evoke. With taught percussion and some truly bowel-destroying bass, ‘Foam’ is an album highlight that is somewhere between Grinderman and Rollins band and which never fails to hook you in. The album ends, all too quickly, alas, with ‘the voynich manuscript; and you can only hope that the other seven songs recorded during the session will see the light of day sometime. ‘The voynich manuscript’ is a five minute exercise in subtle horror, as filthy as a blood-spattered basement and yet devoid of the adrenalin pounding horror of a madman with an axe (or a rock band, for that matter) with guitars largely employed in adding texture and atmosphere rather than flaming riffs.

Heads are clearly not a band for everyone. Those who are familiar with Coilguns will be surprised at the band’s comparative subtlety and deeply, deeply impressed by Jona Nido’s stunning production job. What we have here are a band who look back to the art metal of the early nineties and crossbreed it with the maniacal fervour of Nick Cave and Tom Waits to create something uniquely malevolent. It’s hard to imagine another band who sound like this, but if, like me, you miss the days when bands were able to craft something truly unpleasant without resorting to either massive riffs (although plenty abound when the need arises) or harrowing screams, then this self-titled little beauty will be right up your alley.