Crack a beer and grab a seat. Today’s entertainment is a double feature from two Texas-based bands with a proclivity for taking black metal and turning it on its ugly, corpse-painted head. First up is Cara Neir, an idiosyncratic, punky duo whose hardcore-tinged blackness often lends itself to wild stylistic forays, as heard on 2013’s Portals to a Better, Dead World. On the flip side is Wildspeaker, a crustier, sludgier outfit who formed in 2013 and released debut Survey the Wreckage last year. They’re here to deliver Guilt and His Reflection, 13 tracks depicting “humanity crumbling into itself” through “the story of post-civilization sins committed when desperation overwhelms.” Foreboding stuff – but is it worth the price of admission?
For Cara’s side, the answer to that question depends on how weird the shit is you’re into. Led by multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents, these seven songs weave a quilt of off-kilter drumming, unusual-sounding chords, and oblique note sequences overlaid by vocalist Chris Francis’s throaty, wet rasp. Opener “Halo of Grey” begins almost like an Atheist song with its rapid wonky basslines and jazzy guitars, before moving into terracing riffy buildups and finishing with a spacier, cosmic sea second half. Follow-up “Clinging to My Last Bit of Sanity” introduces galloping passages joined by smooth, beady leads and bashed final tremolos, but the biggest oddball is “Ego Eats Man,” which features lo-fi bedroom singing akin to A Place to Bury Strangers, interspersed with distant delayed melodies and jangly chords like screamo act Touché Amoré.
Now I’ll be honest – if I’d read that last paragraph before hearing Guilt, I’d probably assume Cara’s songs were too heady and exhausting to be worth my time. Fortunately, they’re anything but. The slinky, distinct basslines are often more memorable than you’d expect, and the ricocheting tremolos are deceptively enjoyable. For how rhythmically disjointed everything seems on first pass, there’s a slick cohesiveness amongst the exotic time signatures and occasional blastbeats. Sure the snare sounds somewhat wooden and the drums are a tad quiet, but at the forefront, the guitar and bass still etch out a richly gothic, willowy atmosphere. As demonstrated by the low thumping plucks and xylophone hits of ambient finisher “Guilt,” this band has a true character in addition to their captivating music.
Wildspeaker’s side, on the other hand, is slightly more conventional but immensely more savage. Unlike the bass-led compositions of Cara, these six tracks are a fierce treble barrage, powered by battering drums and an abrasive guitar tone that sounds like razor blades in a blender. Vocalist Natalie complements this with a high-register, acidic rasp that recalls other similar female-led acts like Iskra, Black September, and Oathbreaker. Only fragments of the sludge from Survey remain in the form of a few creeping chugs – as a whole, this is fast and uncompromising.
Fortunately, the band still write solid riffs, offer enough room to let them be discerned, and supplement them with unusual moments knitted fascinatingly into the record’s overall framework. Take opener “Desecration Plague,” which charges from fearsome blasting into a stomping rhythm under surprisingly meaty guitar progressions. “Hunt the Weak” stands out for its harrowing ascending tremolos, “Stages of Decomposition” works upward from a morose waltzing melody, while “Sins of Desperation” morphs a skewered stoner-esque riff into a hammering D-beat assault. Yet most surprising is closer “His Reflection,” which finishes with blastbeats and major-key strumming that strongly recalls a certain shall-not-be-named pink record. But put down your Pitchforks – “Reflection” works as a powerful finish, made more poignant by its inspired writing and how different it is than everything else here.
In all, to say Guilt surprised me is an understatement. I’m used to splits featuring covers, re-recordings, or one-off experimental tracks that prove little more than a curiosity. Here, Cara Neir and Wildspeaker have crafted a joint record where each side is incredibly accomplished and has its own identity, and yet they complement each other immaculately both in mood and arrangement. Maybe the most surprising part is that the songs average only three minutes in length, and not one feels unjustly truncated for the 39-minute runtime. The only real downside is that, as of now, the only physical release of Guilt will be via cassette. But hey – for those who don’t like mp3s, this is more than worth digging out the Walkman for.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 224 kbps mp3
Label: Broken Limbs Recordings
Websites: facebook.com/caraneir | caraneir.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/wildspeaker | wildspeaker.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: September 16th, 2016