The first word that pops into your head when you hear Old Money/New Lows – regardless of any review’s priming – is “fat.” Closely followed by “sassy.” Barren Womb‘s fourth album possesses of swagger in immense proportion, but as one would expect from a band whose debut carried the moniker On The Origin of Faeces, it’s tempered by good humor. The Trondheim noise rock duo sure as hell know how to hold your interest, mixing irreverence with earnesty and violating Yngwie’s law with a shit-eating grin.
That simple opening to “Crook Look” kicks off one of the year’s most fun albums to date. Between the garage rock aesthetics and punk sensibility, Old Money/New Lows hits peak scuzziness immediately and rides the crest of that wave for almost its entire length. “Mystery Meat,” cruises along, alternating between upbeat riffing and outbursts of hardcore punk while belting out anti-carnivory talking points with aplomb. Yet it has more to offer than just energy; a placid post-rock bridge shows off the band’s adventurous side and completes the song. Next up, the boozy lurch of “Theory of Anything” shows off the duo’s willingness to abuse their vocal cords.
These songs rely on a bare minimum of riffage to sustain themselves, yet the duo seem endlessly creative. Gonzalez delivers riffs at extreme volume with untouchable attitude while Silvola places every beat with the emphasis of a tipsy comeback. The riffs on “Mystery Meat” and “Mad 187 Skills” are real gems, and most of the album holds your attention despite just being drums and single-tracked guitar. The two also run the gamut of vocal styles from bloody screams to rambling spoken word to rough but well-executed melodic singing. Between their shrieking and the brittle guitar tone, these two could give a lot of black metal bands a run for their money.
Barren Womb keep things moving at a respectable clip until the very last track, resulting in a B-side that falls just short of completing the promise of the first four tracks. “Cave Dweller” and “Drive Through Liquor Store” are somewhat predictable nose rock numbers but don’t overstay their welcome. Besides, they only serve as a ramp-up to the energy of “Mad 187 Skills,” a brilliantly successful mix between a garage rock ballad and a hardcore protest song1. The hard-hitting shout-along verses provide the perfect foil to the melodic verses, and the ferocious ending wouldn’t be out of place on a well-appointed blackgaze album. Sadly, the final song, “Russian Handkerchief” leans far too heavily on Black Sabbath worship, and at almost seven minutes long without the genre-bending of the album’s better songs, it ends the album on a disappointingly weak note.
Yet for the majority of Old Money/New Lows, I can offer little critique. It’s an accessible but still respectably obtuse rock record that doesn’t pull any punches, musically or lyrically. At the end of the day, that’s what a rock record like this should be – a collection of cracking songs that make a strong statement and keep your foot tapping. It’s road trip music, bar fight music, dingy basement mosh music in a perfect package. Barren Womb are at their finest when refusing to play it safe and stick to just one influence, and the skill with which they hybridize in Old Money/New Lows truly impresses.