Oozing Wound Earth Suck

[Thrill Jockey; 2014]

Styles: metal, thrash, hardcore, sludge
Others: Metallica, Indian, Mastodon, Thou, Torche

In a musical world populated by so many fake and false genres, metal stands out as perhaps the most irredeemably fraudulent of them all. It’s said that metal is angry, indignant music, music that funnels rage into condensed explosions and shoots it at a corrupt universe. But when was the last time you observed metal’s “anger” actually causing someone to cower in fear, make amends for a wrong, provoke an imflammatory response, or incite any of the effects that serve to invest anger with its particular, everyday meaning? Probably never. Metal’s power to shock and disturb has been lost in the decades of repetition, inbreeding, and overfamiliarity, leaving it in a position where it’s no longer a disaffected rupture along an otherwise tranquil continuum, but rather one tranquil continuum among many, churning an endless simulation of itself and the “fury” that it’s reduced to so many empty signifiers. Well, for whatever reason, this grim probability hasn’t stopped Chicago’s Oozing Wound from pounding out Earth Suck, their answer to last year’s Retrash.

And it hasn’t stopped them from relocating within the largely static charade that is metal, because in addition to the splenetic thrash of their debut, Earth Suck now trades in the widened commodities of sludge, hardcore, and death metal (minus the Cookie Monster vocals). Rather than speed itself into a jagged rotor of chugs, “Going Through the Motions Till I Die” begins with a gracefully lumbering roll of distortion, its 6/8 pounding eventually casting off its stoner-ish loll to harden into a condensed seesawing pulse that goads frontman Zack Weil into rasping such mockeries of 21st-Century Man as “I’ve lost the will to live an honest life.” “Hippie Speedball” is similarly gargantuan in intent, but even with this decelerated extension of the trio’s portfolio, their freshly contrastive slow-fast attack plan can’t help but reproduce the same falsities that damn so much of the metal they draw upon. Its four-bar exchanges may be as powerful as hell, so powerful that the band whip themselves through the gears with agitated finesse, but this is a duplicitous show of power and strength, since like all metal it’s ultimately the result not of brute muscle and physical exertion, but of the modern guitar equipment (e.g., pedals and amplifiers) that allows a few gentle strums and picks to be magnified beyond all recognition and a few nerdy dudes to hide their limitations behind torrential yet artificial walls of gain and fuzz.

Consequently, when flurries like the caustic “Bury Me With My Money” and the Darkthrone-esque “Genuine Creeper” hurtle at full speed in a blaze of tremolo picking and fried power chords, the resulting force and rancor are more expressions of the technologies that enable them — and by extension the social and economic structures that produce these technologies — than of the band’s own inherent resources and qualities. Rather than critiquing their world, they unintentionally end up affirming their dependency on it for their own being and individuation, so that the animosity of the semi-epic “When the Walls Fell” becomes another example of falseness, insofar as its biting crunch and air-raid leads make a show of attacking a system that its dependency in fact perpetuates.

Moreover, this duplicity extends in other directions as well, since the derivative, homogenized nature of Earth Suck’s playlist contradicts the image of metal’s trenchant anti-conformity with one of entrenched conformity. “Colonel’s Kernel” might have you believe that its rolling drums, muted-unmuted 1-2 riffing, and hoarse invective are a blow against the excesses of socialization and discipline, against the imposed need to slavishly imitate John and Jane next door, yet its scrupulous adherence to formal and structural commonplaces of the genre would imply that the average metalhead is just as desperate to be a mirror of his or her neighbor, and to be as accepted, as anyone else. Nothing on the album is especially idiosyncratic, quirky, or involuted, so that when the furious two-chord denouement of “False Peak (Earth Suck)” plays out to its bitter end, you’re left with the feeling that the band and metal itself would simply replace one questionable mode of conformity with yet another.

Even so, it needs to be said that this doesn’t stop Earth Suck from walloping ass. Furthermore, it’s precisely because of metal’s falsity that we’ve been so drawn to it for so long, since — in being little more than a disguised manifestation of the corrupted world it claims to oppose — it allows us to have our cake and eat it too. That’s right: the seven vicious tracks on Oozing Wound’s sophomore outing are another opportunity for us to reconcile our urge to protest and kick up a fuss with our urge to avoid doing anything deviant enough to get us kicked out of the fold of humanity. It allows us to say no and yes simultaneously, to maintain the psychologically valuable illusion that we’re independent in a way that doesn’t saddle us with the psychologically grueling burden of actually being independent. More specifically, it does justice to the musical traditions it invokes, integrating them into dynamic, scrupulously constructed rampages that escalate at just the right moments and explode at just the right moments. No doubt the band could be criticized for being just a little too “right” in this regard, but then we’d be missing the point, which is that nothing of their anger is supposed to be taken as a serious irruption in the otherwise peaceful flow of either metal or modern life.

Links: Oozing Wound - Thrill Jockey

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