The Body No One Deserves Happiness

[Thrill Jockey; 2016]

Styles: doom, sludge
Others: Humanbeast, Thou

No One Deserves Happiness, the new album by the relentlessly bleak Portland-via-Providence sludge-metal duo The Body, is an absolute joy to listen to. That shouldn’t be taken as a surprise or in contradiction with their unrepentant nihilism — metal and hardcore punk have always known how to hit the pleasure center bound up in fuck-this-shit-planet antagonism, and The Body have been one of the most gleeful purveyors of this approach — but the tight focus on ecstatic negation they display here is new.

Despite being their first release in awhile credited to only themselves following a slew of collaborative albums (with Thou, Full of Hell, Krieg, among others), the vocal presence of Maralie Armstrong of Providence’s excellent not-quite-cold-wavers Humanbeast and the return of frequent vocalist Chrissy Wolpert of The Assembly Of Light Choir make this distinction more or less irrelevant, similar to The Haxan Cloak’s contributions to their previous “solo” release, I Shall Die Here. If anything, it’s this collaborative spirit that’s most responsible for the album’s perverse joy; for a group that’s prided itself on turning its back on the world or straight-up pointing guns at it, there’s a great openness here, with strings, horns, and full-fledged melodic vocal choruses butting up against relentless guitar and pummeling percussion. This openness also seems like the most direct result of The Body’s stated aim to make “the grossest pop album of all time,” with the body-centric propulsion of pop translated here into a misery party with memorable choruses, even if it resembles 4AD goth supergroup This Mortal Coil as much as more contemporary references.

And it’s still unmistakably an album by The Body, with those gestures toward pop firmly within metal’s longstanding tradition of gingerly inviting new elements into the kind of rigid sound that the group entertains, be it in the long choral intro to All The Waters of the World Turn to Blood or the diverse instrumentation of Christs, Redeemers. Hate and self-hate alike, of course, are most potent in the presence of others on the inside or the outside, and are dangerously close to community’s basis. The Body have always been about the constant demarcating and remarcating of inside-outside groups; and, in what might be termed a meta-textual approach to the ethos pervading metal communities and their approach to musical structure, The Body transfer anti-societal communalism to aesthetic and political levels, in addition to the presence within the social scene in which they operate. Outside elements, either musical or perspectival, are welcomed in as a reaffirmation of the inside, but The Body’s particular skill is in undermining the new inside.

So if No One Deserves Happiness might initially scan as a left-turn with the slow intonations of “go it alone” and the downcast horns that begin “Wanderings,” it’s really just an invitation into the auto-destructive celebration heralded by Chip King’s terrified shrieks at the song’s close. The experience is nothing less than fully immersive by the time we’ve made it through “Shelter Is Illusory,” the closest the album gets to true pop (aside from Armstrong’s co-written “Adamah”), replete with a gorgeous quasi-operatic upward-searching chorus from Armstrong and a keening processed-strings backing, whose sparing yet threatening guitars find release in the white noise thickets of the following track, “For You.” Pop, it seems, is useful inasmuch as it provides a discrete formal body to integrate and dissolve.

From there, it’s an endless oscillation of elements, new juxtapositions of industrial percussion and ragged cries, roaring electronics and militaristic furor, emphatic horns and fully-felt choral elements, etc. etc., in new permutations and forms, antagonistic or inviting toward both one another and the listener. It’s all hopeless and self-defeating, but there’s a moment-to-moment investment in fulfilling bodily expectations that’s hard to register as anything but pleasure, or even happiness.

Links: The Body - Thrill Jockey

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