Heavy Winged Spreading Center

[Release the Bats; 2009]

Styles: post-rock, black noise, doom metal
Others: Mogwai, Yellow Swans, Wolf Eyes, Red Light Chamber Choir

Noise-rock trio Heavy Winged have unleashed yet another wad of hair and tangled barbed wire upon the American underground by way of their umpteenth album, Spreading Center. Consisting of two 26-minute instrumental jams, the album eschews melody in favor of jazz-like improvisation filtered through Fun House-era Stooges and Testament. Given the lack of visible structure and the constantly shifting soundscapes, the two tracks hold together remarkably well. At no point does the album regress into raw noise. Even though a song may end in a completely different state from whence it began, it maintains an unbroken (if somewhat jagged) line of coherence from start to finish.

There's an expressiveness to Heavy Winged's compositions, and that is the band's chief strength. With their talent for wordlessly conjuring nightmare imagery, they're like an analog Yellow Swans. Drummer Jed Binderman is front and center at all times, flailing wildly on the kit and never once managing to miss the cymbals on a downstroke. Guitarist Ryan Herbert and bassist Brady Sansone wrap their damage around his, either in the form of towering, face-melting riffs or in bottomless feedback loops. There are moments that absolutely glisten: the storm-swell of ascending guitar and trembling cymbals at the beginning of “Strigoi,” or the moment, seven minutes in, where the guitar drops out while the song lurches on, reconfiguring itself from the rubble like some ramshackle behemoth slouching inexorably towards Bethlehem. There's the droning thrash onslaught in the first three minutes of “Loudun,” and the wispy guitar towards the middle that sounds, I'm sure, exactly like the idiot pipings of the blind, voiceless Other Gods in the court of the daemon sultan Azathoth.

So perhaps you're sitting at home wondering, “If it's that good, why the average rating?” Well…shit, I mean, each track is almost half an hour long. That may sound like a trivial concern, perhaps even a narrow-minded one, but the unwieldy (if symmetrical) length of these tracks makes an already challenging album more difficult to digest. I can't easily skip to the parts I like or grab a song for a mix, and if one of the tracks comes up on my iPod while I'm on shuffle, it's highly unlikely that I'll wait 26 minutes while it plays through. The only way to enjoy this album is to take in a solid 52 minutes and 20 seconds of squalling noise at one sitting. That's probably intentional on the part of the artists, and I respect that, but it virtually guarantees that however much I admire Spreading Center, it's only going to receive infrequent play on my home stereo.

Of course, offering a noise-rock band tips on increasing their accessibility is probably akin to admonishing a nun for dressing a little frumpy. At its best moments, Heavy Winged manage to sustain an atmosphere of evocative violence both cathartic and vaguely unsettling. Anyone who's willing to devote the required attention will find the pleasures of Spreading Center well worth the effort it takes to distill them from the band's lengthy compositions.

1. Loudun
2. Strigoi

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