Do you like powerviolence? Do you like sludge? Do you want a bloody Reese’s cup composed of two great, horrible tastes that go great together? Well then, have I got a treat for you.
After seeing my previous entry of this series detailing the impressive and shamanic God Root, Alex Strickland, vocalist extraordinaire, reached out to me to see if we’d be interested in covering his two excellent bands, Abacus and Bathe. And boy howdy am I interested. The two acts, despite sharing Strickland, are unique enough to give their own coverage, so hopefully everyone here will find something to enjoy.
Abacus – En Theory
If you’re more of a chocolate (powerviolence, in the case of this metaphor; work with me) guy or gal, Abacus may be your preferred taste. En Theory is a monstrous exercise in inhuman aggression. From the very first track, as the jangly, almost loose chords bounce off the frantic drums, it becomes very obvious that this album is the product of four beating hearts filled to the brim with hatred and wrath. Each subsequent track is a pummeling bar-brawl of flying chairs, broken bottles, and wrecked instruments. Guitarist Josh Bumgarner and drummer Paul Huff are likely to be your focal points during this whirling dervish of sweat and blood; Bumgarner is unrelenting in his use of double-edge riffs that never stop skinning listeners. Despite flagrant use of power chords, the guitar work on display is actually deceptively complex. At various key junctures in the album’s development, Bumgarner dials back the aggression to lay down atmospheric riffs that almost evoke some of Chuck Schuldiner’s more pensive guitar lines before diving into subtle snares of delay, dissonance, and reverb that leave you perpetually disoriented. These switch-ups are actually a key to the nastiness of the album, allowing brief moments of reprieve that only render you more vulnerable to the next battering. Contrasting Bumgarner’s dynamics is Huff’s impulsive, unremitting percussive assault that often sounds like a barrage of bone and sinew making a wet cacophony as the pieces of human debris smack and slap across the guitar’s sinuous chords.
Strickland and bassist Kevin Scruggs add a much needed depth and closure to the violent interplay between guitar and drums. Scruggs’s bass lines are never overstated, but the little drops, breakdowns, and flourishes definitely add that last bit of punch to the lower-end of the music, like a hefty pair of brass knuckles added to a Mike Tyson right hook. Altogether, the instrument work on this album is exhausting and remorseless, giving you black eye after broken rib after crushed sternum; En Theory is a taxing listen, in truth, but it remains captivating throughout as Strickland rises above the maelstrom like a deranged circus ringleader, conducting the symphony of carnage with his manic shrieks and utterly spiteful shouts. His vocals may rarely exceed standard hardcore affair, but they always sound professional, and combined with the music, are wholly impressive and disarming. Simply put, En Theory is a violent listen that will undoubtedly whip you into a cubicle-crushing fury.
Bathe – Ornothopsieism in Seven Movements
If Abacus is Strickland’s main method of hurting those around him, Bathe is a much more sinister project, like a hidden closet shrine of perverse torture. It is the peanut butter in this hardcore Reese’s, one that draws much more from the world of sticky sludge and noise. Despite sharing two members with Abacus (minus Scruggs and Bumgarner), Bathe is a wholly different beast, all sloppy, downtuned malice and inky discord. Where Abacus are tight and precise, Bathe are loose and unhinged. Low, mucky riffs seem to slide and wrestle with each other and the bass notes in oily, hateful mud while a much slower, more pummeling drum approach batters like a gigantic beast more than a nimble prize fighter. That slippery nature shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of skill or ability, though. Make no mistake: every note, every scream, and every punch of the percussion is methodically chosen to leave you disarmed and vulnerable while Strickland works his sick magic to skin you conscious and alive.
It’s difficult choosing which of the two releases I prefer, but there’s something horrifying in the seemingly slipshod sludge peddled by Bathe. There’s a dissonance and heft to all of the riffs that dwells like a lurking alligator in the swampy production. Every downbeat and rhythmic shift feels like another step further into a hopelessly inescapable mire full of deadly beasts and inbred mutants whose only desires are vengeance and destruction. There’s little polish or even light to the music on Ornothopsieism in Seven Movements, likely due to Colin Marston’s expert knob-twiddling, and even when unexpected elements, like the church bells in “Movement V” appear, they only ever add to the chaos rather than detracting from it. Of the two, Ornothopsieism also gives a little more room to Strickland’s vocals, allowing the full force of his malevolence to reach out and grip you with serial killer hands. This is ugly music for ugly hearts, so I’m sure a lot of you will dig it.