About eight years ago, this dude with a bandana tied ’round his neck and a newly inked sleeve tattoo redder than the devil’s cock pulled me aside and played me a House Of Low Culture CD. “This is a side-project from the guy in Isis,” he said excitedly, and I could tell he wanted to see how I reacted before he made his own opinion known. Thing is, I literally couldn’t hear anything; I asked dude to jack up the volume. Once he did, I could hear something bubbling under the surface, but I couldn’t register what it was or where in the world it might have come from. I was practically offended; I figured House Of Low Culture was just an indulgent side-project from the leader of a much-loved band. (Fuck me.)
Of course, partly due to the emergence of more atmospheric BM and other factors, metalheads have slowly been turning on to drone, noise, and other less-obvious persuasions, despite the huge differences in listening habits necessary to make such an adjustment. I can’t help but think House Of Low Culture played a part in the slow migration that has accompanied the emergence of hybrid, tough-to-pigeonhole bands like Locrian, Pyramids, Nadja, and too many more to mention. There’s almost an embarrassment of riches where experimental metal is concerned these days, and it feels like progress.
So where do House Of Low Culture fit into all this now, in 2012? To me, they are still worlds apart from everything. They create music that, if it weren’t for the Isis connection, wouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as their peers. Like a sub-Tribe Of Neurot, HOLC hold no rule sacred, and one of their biggest strengths is that they never rely on repetition to carry the long sides of the vinyl version of Poisoned Soil. A voice cracking, a bird chirping, a rusty metal kettle drum being struck in the desert wind, a rush of oceanic audio waves, a guitar from an Earth album being strummed in an abandoned saloon: These are the sounds of unsettling.
Poisoned Soil is a remarkably vivid sojourn from the rules of guitars-drums-bass-voc drudgery. The 12-inch portion is particularly fragrant, smacking as it does of the spiders-on-back scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and its completely alien sources will stump you to death. Is that a wind-up music box? A treated uke? Some sort of zombie xylophone on double time? No, probably not, but it won’t kill you to try to guess. The mystery is half the fun.