AIDS Wolf March to the Sea

[Skin Graft; 2010]

Styles: noise rock
Others: Lightning Bolt, Pre

Virtually every review, positive or negative, of Canadian art-noise-rockers AIDS Wolf ends up summarizing whatever album they’ve just released as something along the lines of “harsh as hell, borderline unlistenable, standing at the farthest edge of what’s currently termed ‘music.’” Maybe it’s just that controversy-baiting name they’ve chosen, but nothing about AIDS Wolf’s music is as drastically and deliberately off-putting as anything by, say, John Wiese, at least in terms of structure and tonality. Though their sound is certainly unique, there are clear influences here, with early no wave and the recent crop of particularly scuzzed-out noise rock springing quickly to mind. Infatuated though they may be with jerkily pummeling drums, crushed-to-death ejaculations of guitar lines, and almost-pre-vocal moaning, AIDS Wolf nevertheless maintain a clear lineage with rock structures. They’ve just taken the basic elements of guitar-driven rock and pushed them as far into their own little corner of the world as possible — and with a fair deal of success, it should be added. Provided that a listener is wiling to follow them into their shuddering, squealing alleyways, there’s a lot of visceral pleasure to be found here. On March to the Sea, as on previous releases, the groups strikes a constant balance between totally abandoning themselves to the noise and pulling it into a rhythmic assault, resulting in a sound that demands a physical response as much as it disorients.

What makes the band notable, then, is their skill at establishing and subverting the propulsive elements of their sound. The band constantly suggests that at any moment their music will coalesce into something more recognizable, settling deep into the sludge or taking off into a synchronized attack, but they virtually never actually do so, constantly upsetting their songs’ momentum, making a turning point into a deliberate detour that hauls the listener back into a succession of nearly-disorganized pinging jabs of guitar and washes of scuzz. Watch as the squiggles of atonal guitar in “Catholic for Rent” constantly threaten to turn into the closest thing noise rock has to a hook, only to be sidetracked by a suddenly upturned rhythm section or a scraping of syncopated low-end. Perhaps this is that off-putting aspect of AIDS Wolf: they constantly invoke traditional pleasures that are then never supplied. It’s a sort of cruel move to a certain sort of audience, but in many ways it’s also their greatest merit. Especially live, this sort of aesthetic asceticism yields its own pleasures, resulting in a brutally invigorating shamble of sound that avoids any sense of moment-to-moment complacency. In this regard, AIDS Wolf craft some of the most vital-sounding noise around, injecting constant unease into their relentless approach.

And yet, with March to the Sea, the group provides a moment of comparative settling down, albeit in their particular noise-obsessed fashion. The 10-minute Throbbing Gristle cover “Very Friendly” marries its typical cacophony to an approximation of Krautrock, riding a wave of endlessly escalating fuzz punctuated by moments of isolated moans. It’s relentless but more visibly structured, allowing the view to sink into their filthy swirl rather than constantly assaulting from a new direction. With a stretched-out pace, it’s nearly as long as the rest of the album combined, and this turns March to the Sea into a nice count/counterpoint in terms of structure, though never in terms of timbre — “Very Friendly” still sounds as harsh as the rest of these tracks, its difference in organization and space rather than texture. With this final track, AIDS Wolf make a welcome move toward diversifying their approach; for all their merits, album-to-album evolution was never one of them.

And so there it is: a bit over 10 minutes of bewildering, overwhelming noise rock followed by 10 minutes of slightly-less-bewildering but perhaps even more overwhelming noise. At three albums in, this approach now comes as slightly less shocking, but it’s still a powerful album. Even given AIDS Wolf’s place in a long continuum of like-minded artists, there’s still something vital in a deliberately difficult form that nevertheless makes room for reckless abandonment to its force. Again, the live show plays an important role in this; see this band and its audience collapse together live, and it becomes clear that for all their auditory self-negation, this is still a band that can bring people together in sweaty abandon. With March to the Sea, AIDS Wolf have planted a flag in their own little corner of a particularly grimy underbelly of art rock, and it looks like they’re staying there. We’ll see if that remains true by the time their next full-length rolls around, reportedly in the very near future, but for now their old sound remains pretty vital.

Links: AIDS Wolf - Skin Graft

Most Read