Like its similarly-minded forebear Relapse, Hydra Head was a metal label willing to erase lines drawn by the more conservative end of metal fanaticism, offering up their roster to artists that shared the rumbling extremity of its core focus that traverse into other realms. Just as Relapse was responsible in the 1990s for introducing numerous metalheads to the unconscionable chaos of harsh noise/death industrial legends like Merzbow and Brighter Death Now, Hydra Head not only roped noise prodigy Dominick Fernow into its fold, but released what was then his most distinct departure yet in 2011’s deceptively accessible Bermuda Drain. With the label sadly deciding to close its doors, at least where new releases are concerned, it’s fitting that they go out with an inspired split release between a metal legend (Justin Broadrick) and a noise genius (Fernow), both of whom use their space on this release to subvert and strengthen their cultivated vocabularies.
JK Flesh is an almost brand-new solo concern of metal/industrial/post-hardcore icon Broadrick (Napalm Death/Godflesh/Techno Animal/Jesu), with Worship acting as this particular project’s second outing following an album last year for the 3BY3 label. While Broadrick used much of the past decade to explicate his main post-Godlfesh concern Jesu, an undertaking which found Broadrick exploring the outer edges of doom metal and post-rock’s fitting intersection, JK Flesh reaches back into the guise of Godflesh’s strident gut-punch approach to industrial metal, an un-breaking torrent of discord that he had perfected early on and later sought to synthesize with the vibrant electronic music landscape of the time. On Worship, Broadrick forsakes the blatant Swans/Ministry heaviosity and instead internalizes said operation within the lurid texture and malicious menace of post-industrial music. His three pieces compiled on his half of the record are singularly diverse in their manifestations, and not without their own obvious reference points to Broadrick’s past endeavors. “Deceiver,” for instance, skitters ahead in the vein of Godflesh’s mid-career exploration of digital hardcore and jungle rhythms, though in this occurrence, the abrasive guitar riffs associated with that period of Broadrick’s pursuits are displaced with droning choruses of black noise and morose ambiance.
The post-industrial spirits of early dark ambient and power-electronics pioneers are actively suggested throughout, and nowhere more explicit is Broadrick’s debt to both Ramleh’s move into drone territory and Skullflower’s mid-90s reverb’d noise and bad-vibe psychedelic menace than on the split’s opener “Fear Of Fear;” when the deeply murky and deceivingly warm synth beds generate into a steady militaristic crawl, another Skullflower masterpiece, 1992’s IIIrd Gatekeeper, is recalled, specifically if the album were stripped of all its debts to rock-based rendering. Although the descending bass brings to mind the earliest of British dubstep, the wordless growls and serrated skyline of Broadrick’s ambiguous instrumentation recalls a concoction much more sinister: a dub-metal symphony cut and pressed at an incorrect speed. “Obedient Automation” winds up closing the side with a frenetic tantrum that aptly bookends Broadrick’s threads of inspiration coursing through JK Flesh; occasional buried vocals and percolating bass reign in the madness, while the disciplined violence begets a sound strangely both out of and within the present, a potentially divisive and nakedly abrasive industrial record cut for the club that works the body with an unrelentingly sense of unease.
Dominick Fernow’s deliriously vast body of work under his flagship alias Prurient took a turn for the frustratingly uneven on 2011’s Bermuda Drain. Although his ambition to expand the project’s vocabulary, this time indulging in the EBM/techno concerns associated with his tenure in Cold Cave, is admirable, the flirtations with these forms on Drain and this year’s Through The Window can at worst feel forced and poorly integrated. It’s not that Fernow is incapable of excelling in these areas; his Vatican Shadow project has wonderfully and thrillingly presented evidence of Fernow possessing a firm hand and considerable compositional dynamism in the realm of beat-driven dynamics. But where Vatican Shadow showcases a studied yet divergent eye reconstructing the work of post-industrial mavens such as Muslimgauze, Fernow’s same gestures as Prurient have often come across as somewhat confused and unbecoming when grafted to the punishing abrasion standard to the project. It is thus pleasingly exhilarating that Worship finds Fernow masterfully reconciling the dual concerns that run through his recent work as Prurient, with both the sheen of the club-driven bombast manifested extremely subtly and perfectly through the squirming maelstrom of auditory masochism.
“Chosen Books” buries Fernow’s cryptic permutations of stone-faced articulation under a sheen of sinful white noise. Here, the production acts as a paradoxically soothing undercurrent to the project’s archetypical high-end. Ending abruptly into “Entering The Water,” Fernow hits nexus that perhaps best renders Prurient’s bloody catharsis into something rhythmically inductive. A muffled bass throbs amicably under a rising synth pulsation before acute atonal fuzz builds belligerently into an all-encompassing haze. The most arresting and stark experiment falls to “I Understand You,” a closer that sees Fernow’s strongest balance of the Prurient project’s storied history with its recent breaks of character. The jarringly balanced instrumental holds a melancholy, almost whimsically simple synth melody underneath screeching, no-input feedback. This trope was hinted at on previous releases such as Cocaine Death and The Black Post Society, but the ghastly clarity unnerves with a power exclusive to the composition’s perverse sense of contrast.
Worship offers a bittersweet glimpse of where Hydra Head’s depths could have carried the respected label had it not reached an abrupt end. An arena where the post-industrial and noise undergrounds fit snuggly with the ever-evolving, thrilling permutations of metal subgenre after subgenre is a pleasing ideal indeed, as both Broadrick and Fernow strikingly prove that their genre-defying statements of purpose act as a most poignant denouement for a powerful imprint that finds itself bowing out far too early.