Drag the light from its perch and smother it in darkness. Crush it, beat it, push it down and hold it under until the thrashing stops and everything is still. Everything is cold. It’s done; the light is dead. All that’s left is to dig the grave, a deep trench for a silent slumber. The grave is yours. Of course, it is. Why linger in a world where the dawn will never spill over the horizon once more? A mouthful of soil is all that remains. Misery, misanthropy and unflinching nihilism, these are the pillars that hold The Atrocity Reports aloft, the latest album from French industrial metal act Wheelfall. The Atrocity Reports is a vice and with every turn Wheelfall aim to squeeze out every skerrick of hope until not a drop remains. Over the course of 41 minutes, you will be dragged into a sucking mire, a lingering gaze at humanity’s shameful ugliness. Don’t look away.
Industrial metal has never been described as musical, eschewing melody and hummable verses in favour of what can best be described as the onomatopoeia of clashing machinery. The Atrocity Reports is no exception, battering the senses with dense riffs, binary percussion, scraping steel and inconsolable anger. Not the kind of sonic torment you expect from a band name like Wheelfall, a semi-nonsensical noun-verb fusion that is explained away by the band’s experimentation with stoner doom and post-metal in their early days. But those days are gone, replaced by the type of pessimism that blossoms out of disappointment and betrayal. And you can hear it.
First track “The Way to Every Crime is Ours” pans tight riffs with heavy distortion from speaker-to-speaker while vocalist Fabien W. Furter upheaves his guts to a staccato rhythm. There’s not much to the track but it proves an effective primer as the rest of the album doesn’t deviate far from this blueprint. Nailbomb serves as the closest point of reference, although the music lacks the incisive chords that Cavalera can produce at a moment’s notice. From here the album settles into a lurching groove, “Nothing But Worms” and “There is No You” tapping into the Misery Loves Co. misanthropy with a heavy, churning sound flensed clean of any lead work. The music is pared back, a rough sculpture chiseled down to geometric minimalism. “Control” is the embodiment of this, offering a Lou Reed-esque spoken word ramble over discordant rumbling, stray percussion and primal chords that rise like a swell and break without mercy. The track is a nightmare of anxiety and nausea — effective in execution, if not strictly speaking, pleasant in the traditional sense. Which raises the question: is the album actually enjoyable? Ay, there’s the rub.
The Atrocity Reports offers not memorable songs, inspiring riffs or rousing choruses and instead favours mood and tone above all else. Listening to the record tenders an experience akin to watching a mangled vehicle being compressed into a cube of folded metal and bleeding oil. It’s a perverse joy that taps into the wellspring of dark emotion buried beneath our layer of civility, a joy not articulated outside of cheap motel rooms and anonymous gatherings. But if you fail to connect with the bleak aesthetic then it’s left to the music proper to provide succor, and that’s where the album stumbles. Compared to other metal/industrial acts there’s not a lot on board that stands out. Ministry gets you better riffs, Fear Factory provides superior mechanical samples, and for spirit-destroying venom Anaal Nathrakh is the standard bearer.
I suspect such criticisms are of little concern to Wheelfall. Throughout my repeated listening sessions the impression left on me was a band less concerned with making digestible music than they were with creating calcified torment. That doesn’t mean there’s no impetus to improve their craft as a number of the tracks like “Black Bile” and “Lost Cause” have a tendency to meander or lack focus, an issue that weighs down the back half of the album. You have to approach The Atrocity Reports on its terms with all caveats accounted for. This isn’t music that pumps you up, makes you smile or lifts your spirit. This is music that smothers you, grinds you down and spits on the remains. If you’re looking to nurse a bad mood then this might be the ticket but a long shower may be necessary afterward to wash away the muck.