Split Cranium - Split Cranium
2012, Hydra Head Records
Considering the extremely diverse musical output of Split Cranium's four members, it's something of a surprise that their debut album is as easily digested as it is. Consisting of folk with heavy psych, freeform noise, metal and post-rock/metal pedigrees, Split Cranium's sound could easily have gone in a completely different direction. But I guess that was the whole point of Split Cranium: to combine the efforts of these four avantgardists and create something truly primal and basic, albeit with an unusual twist. What we get is a sort of brutalist take on Scandinavian/Japanese 80's crusty dis-core. At least for the first quarter of the album, which is pretty straight forward with lots of memorable metallic riffs ontop of ruthlessly powerful d-beats and the deep raspy screams of Aaron Turner (Isis, Mamiffer, House Of Low Culture etc). But then, about a couple of songs into the album, something quite different starts to happen. After the vaguely Minor Threaty (or possibly Negative Approachy?) opening of Blossoms From Boils - built on a furiously bouncy and poppy-as-fuck riff over a fast paced beat and a meandering bassline - we enter Weirdo City where the song morphs into something completely unpredictable, with boogie-woogie-fuzzy ZZ Top guitars, like something straight out of La Grange, and chanting, vaguely Indian-sounding vocals duelling with Turner's deep barking growls. After a while it becomes almost ambient and quite lulling in its repetetiveness. It returns briefly for a second or two to the hardcore riffs from the beginning before abruptly ending, leaving me wondering what the hell just happened.
After this we're treated to the Killing Joke/Ministry-esque opening verse of Scepters To Rust and the following crusty d-beat bridge, which then moves into a Die Kreuzen/Bad Brains-styled double-snare gallop on the chorus. And then back again - rinse and repeat. Black Binding Plague starts off with a a minute or so of glassy guitar noises and then erupts into an awesome midpaced Suicidal Tendencies/crossover pastiche, complete with clean, but at times slightly out of tune, Mike Muir-like vocals and a vicious mishmash of barbwire metal and hardcore riffs as well as some great fucking bass runs underneath it all. Yellow Mountain mixes clean, serenely melodic vocals and midrange aggressive barks layered into a midpaced slightly metallic Discharge-like tune, where the vocals carry the brunt of the force of the song. Not counting the digital-only bonus track where Daniel Menche remixes Sceptre To Rust (a fairly forgettable droning whirlwind harsh noise track), the album closes with Retrace The Circle which starts off innocently enough, sounding like something out of the old school eighties hardcore play book, with a blazing, though monotone, Motörheadish riff over a fastpaced double snare-tapping punk beat. But after just a few bars the song moves ever so slightly out of the comfort zone, with Turner's raspy voice and a serpentine chanted chorus taking alternate turns over the music and just as on Blossoms From Boils earlier, Retrace The Circle attains a certain droniness after a while, where the repetition turns everything a bit blurry and soothing, even with Turner's growling voice breaking through the haze now and again. About four minutes in, fizzing noises, distorted clicks and whirrs starts to drown out the music with a wall of abrasive sound, leaving the droning vocals and the odd guttural scream as the only sounds, beside the droning waves of distortion. This goes on a for a while until the music all of a sudden breaks through the wall of noise and abruptly restarts, almost as if someone bumped into the record player and pushed the needle back a bit.
This is indeed an odd album. But never so odd it becomes an obstacle to getting through it. In fact there's a certain flow and weird logic to the album that makes the transitions between the songs quite smooth and after the initial what-the-fuckness of the first sitting, you get used to it and start noticing all the little details and nods and winks that are buried in the music. It is an outstanding piece of music we get here, but it's definately not for everyone. Alongside the new Old Man Gloom album (yet another one of Turner's projects) this is one of the few truly unique and way-out-there albums so far this year.