The strange fascination with young people doing stuff (SFYPDS) has always been odd to me. “Little Big-Shots” is peak SFYPDS, and it often seems like while those kids are performing at an above-average level, the fascination is more on the fact that they’re young. Master Chef’s kids’ show is another obnoxious case of SFYPDS; ingredients most people can’t cook, pronounce, or find in the grocery store are used as regular fancy chefs would use them, but the people using them are kids! It’s ephemeral, as nobody stays young forever. Playing guitar at the level of a proficient twenty-five-year-old is impressive when you’re ten, but less so when you’re thirty.
This is all relevant because metal had a SFYPDS episode when Noisem released their solid debut Agony Defined. The members were, if memory serves, all in their teens, with drummer Harley Phillips being about fifteen when it was released. Straddling the line between death-thrash and death-grind, Noisem bashed out quick, aggressive tunes that remind of their Canadian contemporaries in Besieged. Old Sepultura is and was another apt descriptor, but that South American sound that animates bands from there was missing here; Noisem are American and sound American, putting them closer to a slightly speedier – but ultimately less riffy – Morbid Saint.
The impression I’ve always got from Noisem is that their primary goal is speed. Velocity is not an aspect but the essence of their sound. It’s a fun callback to the 80s speed race – which neither Noisem or I lived through – when bands would hear new grindcore demos via tape-trading and then try to write something even faster. Opening salvos “Constricted Cognition” and “Deplorable” use blast beats as accents and emphasis, relying mostly on quick thrash beats instead. Eschewing constant blasting makes Cease to Exist avoid sounding hypnotic like the blast-fests of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas and Transylvanian Hunger. “Eyes Pried Open” recalls World Downfall and Toxic Holocaust, with some subtle harmonies appearing near its end to make for an engaging listen and the record’s best song. The final thirty seconds of “Downer Hound” are a glorious Slayer-inspired blaze of glory, with a riff ripped straight from Hell Awaits and simplified played under a squealing solo that suits this type of music so well.
What I enjoy about Noisem’s approach is how without frills and pretensions it is. They want to play grind-infested thrash, because they want to sound natural and live. Playing more complex riffs in the vein of Slayer is hard, and their production – loud, tight, hot, natural – would make mincemeat out of those riffs if used consistently. The opening riff of the aforementioned “Downer Hound” reminds of Exodus, but instead of the beefy sound those guys always tend to achieve through both production and Gary Holt’s sixth sense for ridiculously heavy guitar tones, it’s more mid-tempo, reminding of World Painted Blood’s mid-tempo bits that had an interesting sound due to the reedy production. The issue is that it doesn’t lend itself well to memorability – Slayer and Morbid Saint are legendary bands for a reason – but I’d be a filthy liar if I said Cease to Exist wasn’t a blast when it’s on. This makes the record an exercise in genre aesthetics (instead of an exercise in great songwriting), but sometimes that hits the spot. It’s subtle, but when I pull out my copy of Agony Defined (which is superior to this, but not by a wide margin) I do it to listen to something balls-out fast, not to listen to Noisem specifically.
Perhaps this is the point of Noisem. Perhaps they’re the everyman band, the eternal opener who excels at and revels in the role akin to Goatwhore. They lack the riff crafting abilities of a Slayer, a Morbid Saint, or even a Nunslaughter, and so they remain gleefully in the B-tier. Paradoxically, in my experience, these B-tier albums get lots of play because they demand so little from you in return for a good time. It’s why metalheads who like classical still find joy in listening to dumb, fun, ignorant pit riffs; it’s fun to mosh around on the surface instead of diving under it. Noisem doesn’t ask us to dive, as they present everything upfront. You won’t find little nuances with repeated listens. You won’t remember many – if any – individual riffs from Cease to Exist. You will, however, remember the simple pleasure of listening to it, banging your head, and happily moving on to something else until that sound is needed once more.