Plebeian Grandstand is a name destined for immortality. Over the course of two albums – 2011’s How Hate is Hard to Define and 2014’s Lowgazers, the Tolousian group have annihilated any doubt as to their supremacy in extremity. How Hate is Hard to Define‘s distillation of noise, black metal and mathcore proved their worth as ‘the angriest band on the planet,’ but the sheer ambition of Lowgazers propelled the group somewhere further; the conspicuous revolver adorning Hate now pointed not at the temple, but away from the body. Pulling away from the hardcore aspects of the debut, Lowgazers was more blackened, brutal and unapproachable, but less volatile as well. False Highs, True Lows departs even further, a continuously difficult album from a continuously mobile band.
“Thrvst,” was a strong opener for Lowgazers, but “Mal Du Siècle,” provides Plebeian Grandstand their first chance to outdo themselves. It’s simplistic but shocking: a monastic air-raid siren crows three times, replaced by a distorted, distant retch on the fourth. “Low Empire,” immediately launches into an excrucuating assault, and it is here in a whirlwind of noise that the band’s latest inventions are unveiled. Drummer Ivo Kaltchev has become even more formidable, tirelessly blasting at the heart of a mass of sound that may well be more rhythmically complex than ever. “Nice Days Are Weak” debuted the band’s hatred for anything resembling meter on the debut, but the impossible-to-parse rhythm of “Low Empire” proves even more extreme. Like a ball of insects scrambling over itself, the band feed off of each other’s pyroclastic performances. Even the most spacious moments of “Tributes and Oblivions” crackle with energy, as if the amplifiers know they’re not past, but between tortures.
There are other, less welcome developments, though. Most immediately, screamer Adrien Broué has moved away from the distorted and unintelligible screams of the last two releases, now delivering a gutsy rasp that still relies on sound rather than speech for its semitoics. In previous releases, Broué’s delivery was so forceful that, no matter what his lyrics might be, I felt compelled to agree with him. Now the feeling creeps in that his narration might not be so reliable. This comes alongside developments in sound largely driven by the album’s increased technicality; the songs are less memorable because their slippery writing has abolished riffs in favor of torrents of tremolo and scraped-at chords, marked by constant flow. In the moment that “Tributes and Oblivions” erupts into a frantic triplet lead around the minute mark, it’s hard to keep all of the sound in check, but the song’s cascading structure pulls inexorably forward, dragging you behind by the stapes.
But as much as Plebeian Grandstand‘s sound has changed, the intensity of their music remains, powered now by disgust rather than anger. The sludgy introduction of “Volition” burns through a damp pyre of bass feedback, taking cues from Indian and Dodecahedron, and the industrial heartbeat of “Mineral Tears” would never have fit into the angst-riddled math-crust of How Hate is Hard to Define. This album may be dense, but its diversity makes up for the squashed claustrophobia of its heaviest moments, and even the band’s uses of noise – like the sizzle and scrape behind Oculi Lac, or the relatively soothing “Mineral Tears” – are something of an enigma, serving not only as a complement, but on some occasions a respite from the dissonance and distortion of the instruments.
Much like Lowgazers, False Highs, True Lows sounds enormous, distorted, and dense, and without its myriad of desolate odes to guitar distortion like “Tame The Shapes,” it would be taxing to listen through. This production style loses some punch with the shift in sound as well; when Kaltchev turned to double bass on Lowgazers, the impact was visceral and horrifying. Here the reliance on that same technique weakens the effect. But at the same time, the guitars and bass are among the dirtiest, fullest sounding instruments this side of Sunn O))), and Simon Chaubard’s distinctive style, focused on ringing arpeggios through intense distortion, sounds more intense than ever. The rush that completes “Eros Culture” ends the album with a sickening lump in your throat.
False Highs‘ art is somehow even more rapturously overpowering than that of Lowgazers, and even more suggestive of the album’s yet deeper disgust: lips? vulvae? wounds? Confusion of the three thematically dominates False Highs, True Lows, and its overtly sexual art and overtones seep into a work dominated by pain and disgust, corroding and reshaping it. Whatever your opinion of this album, it’s hard to deny the LP’s thematic unity or this band’s commitment to the provocative. False Highs, True Lows is a truly uncomfortable and difficult album, and Plebeian Grandstand‘s most intense work yet.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Throatruiner Records
Band Websites: facebook.com/plebeiangrandstand | plebeiangrandstand.bandcamp.com | plebeian-grandstand.com
Releases Worldwide: April 29th, 2016