There’s something genuinely unsettling about noise veterans Hair Police suddenly reemerging after five years to tell you that they are “ready to lose the final grip.” You mean to tell me that they haven’t totally lost their shit yet? That this record is some kind of final refuge for the last pieces of their collective sanity? That they expect a future that is more totally fucked than what this sounds like? What happens when they do finally lose their grip? Are we talking, like, Hair Police prepped a bug-out compound somewhere in rural Michigan where they’re going to ride out the next major crisis, or are we talking Hair Police is gathering gear to become post-apocalyptic cannibal slavers? Or maybe there’s some fucked-up transcendence occurring, but instead of achieving Buddhahood, they’re going to sacrifice their last bits of mental functionality for the gift of madness like Cthulhu cultists. Whatever it is, it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the future, except insofar as we should have some excellent, if impenetrably dark, music on the horizon.
On Mercurial Rites, Hair Police — Mike Connelly (Failing Lights), Robert Beatty (Three Legged Race), and Trevor Tremaine — have more or less dropped the last vestiges of rock aesthetics for industrial/horror-movie soundtrack atmospherics. If anything remains of rock form, it’s Connelly’s unhinged vocal performance, and yet his screams recall something more like demonic cries from the abyss, often sounding more desperate and vile than some of the best metal vocalists. His style sometimes recalls the claustrophobic Malefic, screaming from inside a coffin on sunn 0)))’s “Báthory Erzsébet” from Black One. Connelly’s myriad of vocal techniques stitch this album together, emerging from the morass of pealing synths, muffled drums, and tonally-unstable guitars like a combination of the cries and screams of both victim and villain. While the instrumental tracks on Mercurial Rites provide heavy atmosphere, the vocals command the most attention due to both their presence in the mix and their terrifying absurdity.
Rites is less an exploration than a wandering. Industrial noise is in so many ways no longer “experimental.” Hair Police have been doing this for over a decade, but throughout the body of this short album, they seem to almost lose themselves. This is not to suggest that they lack control, but rather that they’re trying to allow the bleak soundscape to assume them. During the instrumental middle of the album, this sometimes results in directionless trudging, somehow appropriate considering Mercurial Rites’ hopeless and unforgiving mood. But these tracks are still less powerful than those that coalesce around the vocals at either end of the album. Most end with a purposeful fizzling, as if snuffed out, spent, opening onto the deeper paranoia that maybe even Hair Police can’t provide you a prophecy of what’s coming.
According to the ancients, oracles communicate by outward signs. Let us all hope that the images Hair Police evoke herein are not some presage of the real “shift” to come. The outward show of Mercurial Rites opens onto a more terrifying inner: a paranoiac, maddening darkness. Even down to the structural level, this album evokes the resignation that follows after panic, a goalless, harried flight into an unknown and unwelcoming wilderness. Its poison drips from every stab of its electronics, every bludgeon of its drums, every desolate and labored howl. But perhaps there is some hope: in experiencing horrific music, you’re taking a tiny dose of that poison into your soul. Each time you listen, its effects become more tolerable, even pleasant. Over time, you become immune to its dangers. If the future’s poison shares any of this brutal pharmacology, we’ll be prepared to release our grip.