They say it’s an awful thing to look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back. I would argue that it’s much worse to look at the man in the glass and recognize every inch. Sometimes, the reality just isn’t pretty. Neither is extreme metal and its capacity to brutalize on a psychological level, let alone physical. Ironically, this is exactly why we like it. Australia’s one-man act Convulsing revels in the union of emotion and commotion, so much so that mastermind Brendan Sloan has pooled all of his abyssal resources into Grievous, an album that expands on its predecessor’s depth for another venture into torrid horizons.
Convulsing might just command one of the best combinations of atmospheric black and death metal I’ve ever heard. Sloan has a rare ability to fuse dense death metal riffing with a suffocating black metal fluidity. Grievous somehow manages to bludgeon yet persuasively menace in one fell blow. As an immediate exhibition, “Beaten” inserts a concentration of minimalist death riffs between rich black metal tremolos and Gothic keys. But it’s the inclusion of Ulcerate‘s ever-mutating discordance that not only supplies the glue that binds the contrast, but provides the album with a pervasive malevolence. “Inert” exacerbates these themes with insistent trem-picking and a sparsity that occasionally even wanders into post-metal territory, albeit with the feral intent of Sloan’s guttural growls and pained screams.
“Relent” feels like the culmination of Sloan’s ability as a songwriter. If not for the deft layering of darkly melodic sequences, the sultry opening chords almost cement the song as the album’s most minimalist cut. It shifts and shakes with a palpable frustration that eventually resigns itself and, ultimately, relents. It’s a perfect example of the song titles’ function. Casting aside basic nomenclature, they instead serve to baptize the material before each track plays out their preordained defining themes. Closing the album proper is “Strewn/Adrift” and it’s a neat consolidation of all of Sloan’s influences as melancholy black metal soundscapes culminate in one final exorcism of the record’s emotional turbulence.
It’s important to acknowledge Sloan’s producing standards. While I don’t always adore the drum tone, the programming is first-class and reveals an astute ear for elaborate patterns. The mix accentuates the often desolate music by purposefully isolating the instrumentation, which promotes some of the album’s more introspective insights. Everything about Convulsing is an unfiltered, but infinitely considered, representation of Sloan. It’s fitting then that, like Errata, Grievous features a Porcupine Tree cover, a band that clearly means a lot to him. Sloan’s artistic integrity once again makes itself known as his unique take on “No Dreaming” exhibits as much of the man’s own identity as Steven Wilson’s.
Convulsing‘s newest work stirs up a very personal maelstrom, and Grievous saves only room for one within its nebulous eye. The experience isn’t immediate and nor does it lend itself to infectious replay. In fact, I can only really revel in the album when the mood truly hits, and even when it does, a single round goes a long way. This is spiritually taxing stuff, but if catharsis by way of musical perdition is what you want, or even need, then Grievous might just be the wailing wall you’ve been looking for. Just be sure to steel yourself when it roars in reply.
Tracks to Check Out: “Beaten,” “Relent” and “Strewn/Adrift.”