Through fully inducing our rational capacities for thought, we exemplify what makes us distinctive as a species. At our most humane, this leads us to examine our own behavior and past achievements in demonstrating astringent comprehension of physical and virtual worlds that are contextualized as a consequence of exposure. Explaining, interpreting, and conforming to the realization of what has transpired is quantified by meaningful demonstrations in an impossibly long and ever-changing list of formats, which exists utterly uncompromised by outer structuring or management. Processes undertaken within the examined life require responsive action not only with respect to revisions in understanding occupied space, but also by confronting past actions and events in an attempt to reconfigure life stories that otherwise remain scattered like unfinished jigsaws.
Case in point: on Lightning Bolt’s latest offering, Oblivion Hunter, the uncompromising Rhode Island duo revisit “lost” 2008 material, where “oblivion” pertains to disbelief in the existence of an afterlife, a realm of utter unconsciousness resulting from the termination of neurological processes in the brain. In a wholly pragmatic sense, this idea is most appropriate in a neuropsychology staff room, but here, it’s difficult not to give these tracks, which were recorded somewhere between Hypermagic Mountain and Earthly Delights, a second chance. In examining the remnants of a past recording session that not only allows the band to see their efforts from a fresh perspective, but also forms the basis of their latest tour, Oblivion Hunter takes on the form of a rescue mission.
Despite the fact that this is a step back into the band’s history, the EP isn’t a showcase of former glory, nor is it a gloating trophy of complexity, versatility, or even prowess that Lightning Bolt have demonstrated over the years. The technical means through which the band chose to project their art have stayed the same, but the subtle changes exhibited in their approach remain astounding. After 18 years of crafting music and conceptual art, Brian Chippendale’s and Brian Gibson’s projects have been subject to a bombardment of stylistic gear changes via heart-stopping, gritty noise rock. The melodic tumult and diversity of Wonderful Rainbow is what brought this act into disjointed beams of limelight back in 2003, while these styles were brought about as consequences of aesthetic experimentation in earlier efforts. Whereas their self-titled debut consisted of strictly noise-heavy productions laid down outside the studio, Ride the Skies took on refined dimensions, despite the granulated, impaling nature of the music. Those polished qualities were later revisited, greased up, and lubricated on 2005’s Hypermagic Mountain, which was the last official release before any recordings from Oblivion Hunter were instigated.
With such an established context in place, the exploration of means to examine was always going to be an interesting process for any onlookers. It remains unknown just how much of the band’s material lies dormant, locked away deep under the floorboards of Fort Thunder, but what they have adhered to on their latest EP is a concise and meaty body of work that shows just where Lightning Bolt was back in 2008, a brutal demonstration of a return to earlier forms. For throughout the length and breadth of this release, there is not a dip or a bulge in agility or cunning; the music that lies within is as boundless as it is grating, a surging cross-pollination of rampant drums, ear-splitting bass hooks, and effect-riddled vocals that surpass any traditional sense of meaning by use of language or words.
Indeed, a great deal of what is relayed vocally is processed and concealed behind a menacing wall of sound. The human voice is used as an effect instead of a means for delivering messages, which becomes an integral part of the fierce, spastic fusion that is being communicated. Gibson has commented on the projection of these messages as highly individualized and transmitted in volume, meaning that the duo are sometimes lost in an ongoing battle with each other while recording. Evidence of this sonic duel is bountiful throughout Oblivion Hunter, the devastating impact of which is hardest felt on its closing track, the 13-minute “World Wobbly Wide,” which pushes the boundaries of extremity further than the eye can see. High-pitched levels of distortion, stripped-down vocals, and ripping, resonant loops are fractured and crumpled into a psychedelic wilderness under torrential hellfire. The experience is utterly addictive, on the verge of orgasmic, a high-level endurance test that may see even the most hardcore fans ducking for cover. But this is not a case of best-until-last: “Baron Wasteland” also embodies a cruel and vacuous spiral of echo, grinding feedback, and hypnotic snare caresses, sitting perfectly comfortable among its neighboring tracks. The only form of respite comes on “The Soft Spoken Spectre,” which builds on sped-up string stylings akin to the distant likes of Shivoham; it’s a beautiful moment on the EP that reminds us just how capable Gibson is at using his bass as an instrument as opposed to a weapon.
What makes Lightning Bolt distinctive is their ability to fashion ethereal spirals of bliss as a byproduct of radical and often painful models, testing the perseverance of their audience while they contend with manic bass fondling, surging percussion, and muffled vocal exploits. Indeed, this isn’t music to think to, or to do anything else to except melt in awe at its technical yet visceral majesty. The lyrics and vocal gestures may be concealed, but the intention is very clear: Oblivion Hunter recaptures missing pieces of the Lightning Bolt jigsaw and reconfigures them in a new context, painting a broader picture of the band’s roots while giving us the sense that it might not be a singular instance of “lost” material being pulled back from the edge of eternity.