It’s tempting to look at all cultural production (art, films, books, and music) as if it’s expressing a prevailing mood of horror at the state of the world. It would be a bit too reductive to say that World Eater was yet another example of this line of thinking, even if it’s an exhausting thing to listen to. It’s not like we couldn’t have foreseen our current wave of crises; the warning signs about globalization and climate change, for example, have been common knowledge for a long time.
If World Eater is the soundtrack to anything, it’s not the end of the republic, let alone the apocalyptic collapse of civilization as a whole. If it indeed captures anything, it’s an America being run in the image of Biff Tannen’s dog-eat-dog casino world from Back to the Future, Part II, or It’s A Wonderful Life after the cosmic absence of George Bailey allows the rapacious Mr. Potter to stage a coup in which he turns the whole of Bedford Falls into a dive bar and cabaret strip. And even this way of looking at things changes daily.
World Eater is, then, a fine piece capturing a certain set of feelings about post-hegemonic malaise, not an attempt to represent the war of all against all. It does a solid job of scaring the living daylights out of us, retaining some of the dramatic ambient drones from Blanck Mass’s self-titled solo debut and the intricate programming from the EPs, but burying them in the walls of noise pursued in 2015’s Dumb Flesh (though, luckily, World Eater is much better than that — more engrossing, more together).
Like the best sort of turn-of-the-century teen slasher flick, it shows us the tendies for sadistic gory violence nestling just inside the bland innocence of bourgeois life. The music boxes (“John Doe’s Carnival of Error”), choral singing, and the lamenting, pleading sounds of human voice (“Please”) aren’t just about foreshadowing some brutality just around the corner, but about active participants in the violence.
Taken as a whole, World Eater makes a strange kind of jumbled thematic sense. There’s scorched pastoral thrash (“Rhesus Negative”), depressed carnival music (“Please”), hellmouth trance nostalgia (“The Rat”), the sound of the Red Army choir setting off a panic attack in Red Square McDonalds (“Silent Treatment”), and a high-order drone full of fraying electrical cables that eventually turns into grim vaporwave (“Minnesota/Eas Fors/Naked”). Closer “Hive Mind” is the most normal thing here.
“Rhesus Negative” ties double-bass-pedal thrash metal dynamics to the sort of vocal synth sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on a Boards of Canada record, if the open landscapes were replaced with a fried wasteland. It also contains a massive gothic choir sound straight out of one of those “symphonic” metal records made by aging caped Scandinavians with corpse paint oozing down their cheeks.
The use of vocal samples on “Please,” “Silent Treatment,” and closer “Hive Mind” (which boasts some demented zombie DJ scratching to boot), as well as a certain reverb-heavy snare crack that has no business being in a beat at all, make them into a suite of sorts. These vocal clippings sound like they’ve been torn from a haunted UK garage or drum & bass track, all disembodied, mutilated, modulated to within inches of total inhumanity. On “Please,” they play out alongside a filtered steel pan drum sound, ending up all clamoring together in a communal act of fear or grief.