Many Blessings – Emanation Body Review

Look at that album cover for a full minute. If that alligator doesn’t end up on Gardenstale’s end of the year round-up, I will personally ensure his redaction. You can thank prolific metal/punk photographer Teddie S. Talyor for that beauty, and you can thank Primitive Man/Vermin Womb frontman Ethan Lee McCarthy for Emanation Body. Many Blessings foregoes the song structures and ensemble instrumentation of metal in favor of the noise that propelled McCarthy’s more traditional projects into the spotlight. Without those idioms, Emanation Body poses both a challenge and an opportunity for metal listeners to witness a different expression of McCarthy’s dismal aesthetic.

Emanation Body’s forty-three minutes are spent laboriously exploring dismal drones and distorted field recordings. Though lengthy, its five tracks are distinct and recognizable, using unique elements to create a particular narrative. “Invocation” strikes a doleful pace, waiting what feels like an eternity between the first two of hundreds of steady 808 hits. Bells and distorted chirps of mechanical birdsong accompany its foreboding crescendo. They are ghosts of shape and motion on the dark ground, like nocturnal animals caught out of focus by a camera flash. These tracks are evocative, each acting as a score to some dour and foreboding art film projected in front of the mind’s eye. McCarthy’s cinematic shaping and pacing make Emanation Body immersive rather than repulsive.

Harsh tones are an essential part of the Many Blessings sound, but Emanation Body uses them judiciously. Foggy singing distorts and burns only at the edges in “Immersion,” and the ringing and rattling hisses that persist once the singing stops feel stark but safe in comparison. “Pandæmonium” slowly layers whines and screeching noise, always introducing a new element and letting its climax pass quickly. This sparing approach to nails-on-chalkboard noise serves the record well. Listeners will thank McCarthy for never drawing out harshness just to punish them or dabbling in jump-scare dynamics. Emanation Body presents a far more coherent, focused, and thoughtful construction than Many Blessings’ debut, Ripe Earth, and the metaphor is right there on the cover. The shocking gore of Ripe Earth’s cover made a statement, but one any metal listener had encountered a thousand times. Emanation Body’s symbolism is no less obvious, but the image itself is far more artful and interesting, with a visual depth that suggests the record’s own diversity.

Emanation Body is a surprisingly dynamic record, rarely feeling as overbearing as a Vermin Womb or Primitive Man release. Even in the densest moments of “Pandæmonium” and “Ruina,” the sound is jagged and crackling with energy where it could be compressed into monolithic form. Dave Otero’s mix and master balance the inherent grit of Emanation Body with the purpose and individuality of its different movements. As a result, the record feels more detailed, moment-to-moment, than the adversarial Ripe Earth. It’s also a lot shorter. Emanation Body could neatly fit on a single LP, sans the five-minute “Ruina,” and brevity increases its impact; the sound is far more meaningful when you’re expected to consume less of it. Yet the whole-album pacing isn’t quite right. “Ruina” is too abrasive when a listener most needs something quieter to bridge the gap between the harsh climax of “Pandæmonium” and the final track. Though “Harm Signal” brings new elements to the record, Emanation Body loses its luster after the first half hour.

I find noise records particularly difficult to pass judgement on. Casually, I listen to them most often as background music, something to drown out distractions and press my mind into focus. That’s one way to appreciate Emanation Body, but it is a record that rewards close listening and can be quite engaging. McCarthy’s metal roots make Many Blessings easier to interpret, and though my appreciation for the record is less than fervent, I am impressed with its direction and musicality. Fans of McCarthy’s handful of sludgy grind bands are unlikely to reject a noise record out of hand, and may find themselves enjoying Emanation Body as I have. But even those not familiar with Primitive Man can be drawn in by this record’s cinematic pacing and judicious harshness.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Translation Loss Records
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Releases Worldwide:
May 29th, 2020

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