Total Abuse Excluded

[Deranged; 2015]

Styles: punk, hardcore, noise
Others: Rectal Hygenics, Pharmakon, Destruction Unit

For years, Total Abuse frontman Rusty Kelley has been hardcore’s most unapologetic self-flagellator. The band’s 2011 release Prison Sweat was 26 minutes of harrowing noise over which Kelley talks about racing home to smoke heroin, waking up in the morning with his lungs full of slime, hallucinating a masked killer crawling through his house. He condemns himself to prison (“Drink your sweat/ Live off your filth”) but does not offer himself redemption. Kelley has called it “confession,” but let’s be honest: this is self-mutilation. After Prison Sweat, Kelley’s abuse of heroin, crack, and oxycontin drove the band apart; Kelley says he came close to killing himself.

By 2013, Kelley had come out the other side and put the band back together. Something was already different. The 2014 Looking for Love EP was kinda… groovy. Kelley sounded like he was almost singing. Instead of wallowing in his self-made prison, he vowed to use Excluded, the band’s fourth album, to try to make sense of his self-hatred. “What does it mean after you acknowledge that you’re a piece of shit?” he asked.

For all that, Kelley is still the kind of person who thinks sex is worse than death. He says so on “The New Man,” ostensibly the song describing his way forward. And he repeats it, over and over, until he’s just choking out the words, the cold, dull walls created by Duncan Knappen and Ryan Foster’s guitars closing in around him. Sex is worse than death if you can’t stand the idea of giving yourself over to someone else — and also if you mistrust pleasure, if you think the physical world is a curse. If the new Kelley is different, it’s that he’s not just degrading himself, but also committing himself to the void.

As Kelley’s personal realizations become more openly nihilistic, his band’s music reaches a new level of clarity. Producer David Williams has helped Excluded achieve a deeper, heavier sound than its lo-fi predecessors, the biggest effect of which is a new stampeding power. And the band, which after all the tumult retains the same five-man lineup as ever, is as tight as vintage Black Flag. The murky drones of Prison Sweat are mostly gone; this is classic hardcore, stomping power chord riffs and screeching solos.

That’s not to say there’s much that’s rote about Excluded — “Jealousy” is spoken self-admonishment over a doom-y procession of guitars (“I’m not a nice person/ Although I’d like to be/ I have hate, and anger/ Jealousy”) before it succumbs to pure shambling brutality. On “Memory,” Knappen, Foster, and bassist Dustin Pilkington issue black plumes of distortion that looms over Matt Lyons’s street-brawl drums. “What am I worth? What am I worth? What am I worth?” Kelley screams.

Total Abuse have always distinguished themselves by altering the language of hardcore at their whim in order to accommodate their rage, and more importantly, they’ve used their lyrics to interrogate their darkest selves. If the hardcore forms seems less adventurous here, it’s balanced with a more urgent focus on the making sense of the grotesque byproducts of human agency (Kelley’s specifically). The album’s withered core is “Watching the Paint Dry” — specifically, its distended final section. Kelley vomits out the words: “We’re all sick of being here/ Waiting for the paint to dry” The rhythm is a steadily racing heartbeat, the guitars rising and falling like struggling breaths, whining like the last thoughts of a panic-stricken mind. This is boredom as torture, self-erosion as mantra, a slow death on tape. This is Kelley’s answer to “What’s next?”: he’s discovered he’s a jealous, angry wretch, and his solution is to banish himself to a hellish nothingness. We feel the promise of this self-negation as the black plumes settle down over our heads — absolution in the form of absence, burial, oblivion.

Links: Total Abuse - Deranged

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