When you woke up this morning, the first word out of your mouth was not a groggy, prolonged “Fuck.” You did not wish to plunge immediately back into a dreamless sleep. The oatmeal you shove down your gullet every morning didn’t remind you particularly of wet cement this time. A cute neighbor smiled and waved to you on your way out the door. The sun was already up and this did not offend you; in fact, that white-hot hole in the sky didn’t even look especially cancerous; you would have dared to say it looked “cheerful”. Your commute to work was traffic-free. The coffee you bought at the gas station did not taste like brown water, was not dangerously hot, and you did not spill it all over yourself while juggling all the shit in your hands to enter your place of employment using your key-card. Things are looking up today.
Let’s see if we can’t do a little something about that. Like-minded acts Theologian and Lament Cityscape have joined forces to disarm you of your optimism and remind you that everything will always suck balls forever. Disagree? Just press play on their new collaborative record, Soft Tissue.
For the uninitiated or the forgetful, Theologian crafts caustic and terrifying works of noisy power electronics and black ambient blasphemy; Lament Cityscape, the more forthrightly metallic of the two, tries to hammer their way to the center of the Earth with relentlessly pummeling industrialized sludge. Sounds like a match made in Hell, right? Well, yes—but the cross-pollination of their respective brands of misanthropy is not exactly what you’d expect. For one, Soft Tissue is an easier listen than any of the contributors’ independent works. Here, Theologian softens Lament Cityscape’s jackhammer touch, freeing them from their rhythmic myopia. And in turn Lament Cityscape polishes Theologian’s harsher proclivities, imposing order on the noisy anarchic drift. Soft Tissue is still noisy and drifting, but sketches of actual songs congeal out of the primordial mist at unexpected times. These songs bring to bear the best attributes of their constituent contributors. For diehard fans of either band, this may not be the best of news. Otherwise, it is very good news. Here is an album that is more than the sum of its parts: industrial sludge and black ambient sublimating into something greater than themselves; a thematic album whose theme is thoroughly felt by the end; a cinematic journey without pictures. (You will be forgiven if you are reminded at times of the repetitive bile of early Swans, the melancholy of Nine Inch Nails’ quieter moments, or the apocalyptic ecstasy of The Angelic Process.)
Whatever the terms “noise” or “industrial” bring to your mind, prepare yourself for a slow burn. Opener “Last Train to Nowhere” does not leap right out of the gate. It creeps up on you with some quiet yet tense and vaguely ominous synths and wordless vocals, before the descent begins in the form of industrial pulses, desolate guitars and acrid, multi-tracked vocalizations. Many of the tracks to come follow a similar pattern, opening with bleak soundscapes or cinematic sketches before anything resembling a proper “riff” rears its displeased head. The drums are programmed throughout, yet retain the single-minded plod of Lament Cityscape’s live drummer. The vocals are a grab-bag of whispers, muttering and distorted wails lost in the crumbling of cities and dreams all around them; they are the voices of dazed survivors of some large-scale catastrophe, calling out to loved ones among the heaps of the dead. Much of the music—especially the extensive and enthralling sound collages—sounds improvised, and I would be surprised if this were not at least partially the case.
Each of these elements is fused together throughout Soft Tissue to address the primary theme: Decay. The album acts like a mirror between the physical decay of the human body and its reflection in the macrocosmic decay of society itself. The lyrics remain a mystery, but the song titles are like bullet-points in the construction of the theme. “Soft Tissue is the First to Go” brings to mind the scientific process of putrefaction; “Last Train to Nowhere” evokes the twilight of a once-great civilization; and “Inevitability” seals the fates of the flesh and the species behind the falling of a single curtain. The interplay of these two fates recalls the beautiful dream of civilization. From which we wake when we meet our ends at the hands of our brothers and sisters or when our nation is invaded by a neighbor or when Nature Simply Takes Its Course.
The centerpiece of this interplay is formed by the tracks “Soft Tissue is the First to Go” and “We Are All Barbaric Scum”. The former is the most reminiscent of Lament Cityscape’s signature sound, but relinquishes the onslaught midway for some hauntological samples and meditative piano. The latter is disgustingly beautiful, lashing out aggressively between misty-eyed guitar leads. Here again, the rage dies down to embers around the halfway mark, at which point we are confronted by a harrowing sample of a rape victim discussing her assault, her final word (I can’t make it out) echoing on for several minutes like an all-damning mantra, until suddenly choir-like vocals break out into unbearable ecstasy. I mean that the ecstasy is literally unbearable: it is difficult to withstand the beauty of this climax without falling to the floor in a useless sobbing heap. The name of the song says it all, folks. A perfect epitaph for humanity: We Are All Barbaric Scum.
“Flechette” is a light and airy comedown from that peak. For a minute it almost seems that everything will be alright again. The twin lights of Day and Reason will come back, and they will heal us. Oh, wait—no they won’t. Because there’s still one track left. One last chance to pull the rug out from under all those fuzzy feelings “Flechette” duped you into feeling. The repetitive emergency-siren guitar motif of “Oh, Master” has come to signal the end. Go ahead and hide under your desks, puny mortals. Call out for your mothers; pray to your gods. The sound of your distress is but a drop in the bucket of every cry ever issued from some animal in pain. There are no ears to hear you. And if the universe could hear you, it would revel in the sweet sound of your suffering—for to suffer is the only thing it has ever asked of you.
Soft Tissue‘s unified message, I think, is this. The human body, that laughably fallible machine, is not an illusion. As for society and the moral pillars which are at once its support and its figment, well . . . society may be the flimsiest illusion of all, held in place by social constructs and a visible police presence. It is nonetheless possible to get through life without violating moral or state law and believing that you are de facto a fundamentally “good person”. But it is not possible to get through life without decaying until you are dead. Some lives contain pleasure; no lives do not contain pain. Cosmic Law trumps Moral Law, and Cosmic Law dictates primarily that all systems tend toward disorder. Toward decay. In the end, all is soft tissue. Not just our bodies, but also our cities, our codes and our collective image of ourselves.
4 out ov 5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Soft Tissue was released by Battlegrounds Records on October 21, 2016.