My flailing interest in grindcore has been reinvigorated over the past couple of years, due to a handful of excellent bands combining intelligent songcraft with the genre’s typical blasting, white knuckle intensity. So when the opportunity arose to review the latest output from long running grinders Agoraphobic Nosebleed, perpetrators of gleefully brilliant past offerings such as Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope, I was stoked for what these drum machine wielding maniacs would have in store for us. With a career spanning some twenty odd years and featuring four full length albums and more splits than a dance recital, Agoraphobic Nosebleed has decided to do something a little different with their latest endeavour, shaking things up with a series of four releases covering a broad range of musical influences outside of their grindcore roots. Basically each release will be played in the style choice of each respective band member, kicking off with this first three-song installment, entitled Arc. It’s an interesting idea with an element of risk, as the band boldly veer away from their established sound and test their songwriting skills in a variety of contexts.
Vocalist Kat Katz (ex-Salome) gets the ball rolling and is responsible for the song-writing direction on the filthy slab of sludge-fuelled hate. And considering sludge is about as far removed from grind as any other metal genre, ANb do an admirable job of bringing the acidic, grimy vibe of the style to life, albeit losing some of their character and identity in the process. This was always going to be a problem with such a project, particularly when ANb have long boasted a rather distinctive brand of grind. But credit where credit’s due, Arc is a rather potent slab of unhinged violence and doomy dissonance most notably recalling the wonky glue sniffing grooves and nihilistic sludge of Eyehategod.
Importantly, even after trading in their grind for sludge and operating at half speed, the quality of riffs are generally upheld at a high standard. Relatively upbeat opener “Not a Daughter” is evidence of this, with Katz screeching like a madwoman over a series of thick and bluesy sludge riffs, before the song culminates with a delightfully bluesy dirge at its climax. Katz’s venomous vocals fit the part to perfection, bringing the essence of boiling vitriol and despair long trademarked in the genre. Three songs may seem scant for a band with a one hundred song album under their belts, but there’s plenty of meat on the bones here, with a combined run-time of 27-minutes. The ominous “Deathbed” pumps out slow, despondent riffs designed to bum you out and break your spirit as well as scare the shit out of any non-metal folk within the song’s bowel rumbling sonic radius. Then, just as you start to feel you’ve been ground down for long enough, the song takes an unexpected twist into a righteous stoner-blues jam that’s easily the most infectious and positive moment throughout Arc.
That moment of brightness is promptly crushed under the weight of the ten-tonne heavy riffs of the spiteful “Gnaw”, sounding like an ever-so-slightly livelier take on classic Grief. Whilst satisfyingly bone crushing in heaviness and featuring its share of strong moments, the oppressive 11-minute bog monster is guilty of overstaying its welcome, but it’s a solid tune nonetheless. On the production front Arc features a suitably hefty and filthy guitar tone, decent bottom end, and one of Scott Hull’s most natural sounding drum machine tones. Sure the finished product could stand to be a little more dynamic, but otherwise the sound captures the style well.
Although not particularly original, I’ve enjoyed what Agoraphobic Nosebleed have done with Arc and I’m looking forward to where this project takes them next. Listeners’ hungry for the band’s trademark machine-gunning grind may be disappointed, but for those with a penchant for distorted feel-bad sludge and NOLA grooves, Arc delivers a solid battering.