Splits, man. I’m not usually a fan. In the best of my experience, there’s always a mediocre band casting a shadow on a really good one, and I find myself wishing the really good band had just released an EP instead. Does this new split between Texas crustlords Cara Neir and Wildspeaker suffer the same fate? Hmmm…
Guilt and His Reflection is not a regular old split, but rather a thematic collaboration between the two likeminded bands. Cara Neir lead with chewy progressive punk ensconced in blackened crust; Wildspeaker follow spewing blackened crust ensconced within crusty blackness. The result of this pairing is a full-length concept album about the end of civilization and the impossible choices the protagonist is forced to make in order to survive. The primary moral impasse explored by this split is cannibalism: the need for cannibalism when all other food supplies have vanished versus the despair produced in the psyche of a man who allows himself to be reduced (or is strong enough to resort) to eating the flesh of his fellow human beings.
I wasn’t highly familiar with either band when this split came across my desk. In fact, there’s so much shit piled up on my desk right now that I almost passed it up. But as fortune would have it, I found the wherewithal to press play on Cara Neir’s first contribution, “Halo of Grey,” and I had to stop and just listen. You hear that dirt-caked guitar tone? So dry, so grainy, so light on distortion? Maaaaaaaan, I dig that toooooooooone. Then the drums (so well-programmed that at first I didn’t notice they were fake) dropped their martial stature for a tinkly stutter-stop beat, and I could feel the blood being redirected from certain parts of my body to certain other parts. Then came the vocals of Chris Francis: the sound of a psychotic person operating at a serious Thorazine deficit. The song slingshots back and forth between blistering speed, ponderous ambiance and some sweet atmospheric grooves reminiscent of something you might hear on a Porcupine Tree record. At four minutes and nineteen seconds, it contains enough ideas to fill a full-length album. Or at least enough to make me want to listen on, eager to hear how the band would utilize all these base elements later on. Most of Cara Neir’s tracks peter out before the three-minute mark—which is perfect, because these songs are so intense that to drag them out any longer would lead to vertebral injury and total nervous collapse. At their most belligerent, Cara Neir can make you feel like you’ve got ants in your pants, or like you’ve injected liquid cocaine straight into a major artery. It was smart of them to weave calmer, prettier bits into all the chaos, because without these bits the songs would suffocate. Mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Garry Brent’s guitar-work can be at once furious and mathematical, as indebted to noise rock as to punk or black metal. And his ear for percussion programming is so deft that I’m convinced he’s using software to humanize the digital beats with intentional flaws. When you throw all this technical mastery together with that quintessential punk looseness, the total effect is one of ramshackle charm.
After burning quickly through Cara Neir’s half of the album, I was hopeful that Wildspeaker would bring something equally refreshing to the table. Sadly, they did not. Their sound is much bigger, largely due to their heavily distorted twin-guitar attack. And while vocalist Natalie Kahan certainly pulls her own weight, sounding like she sleeps on sheets of sandpaper and chews whole lemons (rind and all) before each performance, the band behind her is just kind of there. Strip back the prevailing crust and you’re left with a bunch of very basic riffs from all over the metal spectrum, few of them highly engaging or adding up to anything more than the sum of their parts. I don’t know, man… to these ears Wildspeaker is just loud and angry and loud and angry. I was prepared to write them off entirely until the surprise left-hook of their final track, “His Reflection,” an uplifting and cathartic tune full of ascending major-key chord progressions and sweet, reverb-soaked melodies—a beguiling post-black gem amidst all the loud anger and angry loudness.
And thus this monument to the fall of civilization ends with a ray of hope. Cara Neir get 3.5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell. Wildspeaker get 1.5. My super hi-tech graphing calculator tells me this gives us an average of: