I don’t do all-nighters. While the toxic culture of American professionalism idolizes those who abuse their bodies for work, a lifetime of insomnia has taught me to cherish what sleep comes my way. That’s not to say that I haven’t missed a few nights’ rest through circumstances beyond my control, slipping into a hallucinatory wakefulness through which I’ve convinced myself, however briefly, of any number of strange metaphysical arrangements. At some stage of sleeplessness, the pace of thought continues at speed while the fragmented hard drive of the mind reads straight across without regard for pointers or references. Ideas, memories, images, and anxieties flow without order or continuity through consciousness. It’s a state best approximated by mathcore, and mathcore is what Freighter approximate it with; The Den trades in the genre’s usual angst for a paranoid psychedelia to express this unique deprivation.
The Den draws most heavily from The Dillinger Escape Plan’s abstract days circa Irony is a Dead Scene; stuttering drums, unpredictable vocals, and staccato guitar lines all fall into the early Dillinger mold, but downtuned guitars and atonal solos push the band further from Dillinger’s hardcore roots and ally Freighter with modern mathcore acts like The Crinn and Car Bomb. “Presto Change-o” doubles its riffs with piano and sees guitarist and vocalist Travis Andrews doing his best Mike Patton impression, and the band follow it up with a “Pig Latin” style introduction to “Hot Car Death Dad.”
Despite the parallels, The Den projects sense of identity through the band’s weird lyrics, textural samples and relentless manic energy. The whole album is wired and the band never stop moving, from one idea to another and back, then getting hung up and spinning out on some trivial detail. Each song fixates on one or two ideas and filters them through a screen of distractions, distortions, and competing interests. In “Psychic Reading ’94,” the band fragment an opening chord-strumming motif with stumbling riffs and ringing telephones. Later, “Stick Around and Do It Right Until You Get It” revolves around a hyper-detailed drum pattern and a perverse parody of a blues lick. Most tracks have something great going for them even if they don’t totally come together.
The few songs on The Den that don’t work well usually fall short because of a dull focus. “King Pigeon” undercuts the rest of the album with a cheesy breakdown, while “Future Duke” spaces out its best ideas with lackluster riffs. Even the closer suffers unnecessarily; “Cimitero” features a groove informed by a Father Figure other than Ben Weinman that could have made the song into a proper send-off. But the band play it once and then move on; what should have been the song’s centerpiece gets as much time as its transitional riffs. Too often The Den either neglects its best ideas or leans too heavily on its worst ones—a common failing of albums that favor shock over continuity.
But if The Den’s writing doesn’t sell you the album, the three-piece’s performances will. Matthew Guggemos smacks the living shit out of his drum kit in intricate violence, Jason Braatz anchors odd rhythms with absolute authority, and Travis Andrews whoops, screeches, and screams but never steals the spotlight entirely. While the album’s recording quality is sharp and the sound unified, I’d have liked more nuance out of the production. The Den sounds over-amplified and leans too far into the “punchy” sound to do justice to some of its more delicate material. This approach works if you’re Frontierer and understand songs how the Kool-Aid Man understands doors, but here it’s unnecessary.
Even though The Den’s charm fades after repeated listens, Freighter leave me impressed. By anchoring their sound in the most enigmatic phase of one of extreme music’s most adventurous bands, they’ve come up with an album that’s welcome despite its obvious heritage. Anyone who enjoyed Irony is a Dead Scene will feel right at home in The Den; it’s the first album I’ve heard that sounds like a spiritual successor to the strangest of Dillinger experiments. Add that to a successful exploration of the album’s loose concept and you have a release that’s well worth your time and a band to keep an eye on. If you like mathcore, don’t sleep on this.