Street Sects End Position

[The Flenser; 2016]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: industrial harsh noise hammer punk
Others: Big Black, Sissy Spacek, Bonnie “Prince” Billy

End Position is a harsh noise industrial hammer punk album about numbing your feelings, chastising the nostalgic, smoking crack, hurting your loved ones, and eventually killing yourself. Debut album.

Lots of piercing hi-energy noise, distorted sampling, screaming, head-stapling drums, and melodies powered by pure anger abound. Behind a vicious wall of noise waits equally abrasive lyrics, dark-hearted polemicals against bad faith and self-preservation. A life of lived experience rains down on everyone else with all its bodily fluids, ensuring an inexorable lesson about life choices. For added emphasis, throw in a broken glass-and-gunshot scatter Dada collage.

This is a difficult album to enjoy. Upon first listen, you may just be put off by its astringent clipping and unabashed intensity, but absorbing that along with the whole of its lyrical narrative becomes something of an existential affair. The music is scarred and schizophrenic, nihilistic poetry emboldened by a head-crushing block of distortion, full-panning harshness and splattered martial rhythms with no sympathy extended to the listener. Songs build again and again to freakish noise crescendos alongside Ashline’s blackened screech, a pit of pain at the inevitable end. And yet it pulls you in.

Shaun Ringsmuth is an aural sculptor of rare form, mixing industrial rhythms made of machine gun parts and bursting crash cymbals with psychedelic, transgressive melodies of alien origin, some kind of vicious, indescribable middle ground between guitar, synth, and a brass band on fire. The melodies are often musical but never pleasant; resolution is often found via the most disturbing route possible, eerie gothic chords eaten up by walls of distortion. There are moments of actual guitar that creep in deceptively, but the temporary sympathy they earn always ends up a trap, some pitfall of exploding head death inevitably around the corner. Everything turns into a scorching ball of static. None of the speed generated by the drums or the chord resolving or the samples popping in give you any lasting positive feelings. Interesting is a more appropriate word. Apoplectic, extending a hand.

There’s no subtlety in the narrator’s vision on End Position. They see it clearly, teach it through spite and hyperbole. “Collared, Kept” is about wasting your life and money smoking crack; “Our Lesions” describes a dying body peering back at what they could have been; and “Black Din” is fairly straightforward: “There’s always at least one piece of shit/ Who wants nothing more than to see you fail/ Death is a release from all their resentment/ But life is a wire around their throat.” The lyrics of this album describe a person of extreme agency at the end of their list of available choices, burning all the last bridges and losing interest in life’s pleasures one by one until they view suicide as the final act of freedom (“If This Is What Passes For Living”), and we’re left to imagine what path they take (“We can choose to die/ I’ve been waiting my entire life”). There is a darkness, a fading spirit reflecting. A will to live fighting another feeling.

There is a kind of sensitivity and caution in Leo’s voice as he delivers these lines, even the loud ones. It borders on romantic, These New Puritans or older NIN but several degrees more macabre, and it makes him one of the more interesting singers I’ve heard this year. He sets scenes expertly, crowing and moaning from a tin cage, screaming in quick bursts and whispering anticipatory threats before a feedback sucker punch. He’s disgusted, petulant, and proud of it, carrying the weight to prove himself if someone disagrees. He’s had his own struggles with addiction and speaks with an honest, confrontational lack of pretense about the worst kinds of impulses. It makes for a jarring yet stunning listen.

End Position is dark, angry music. Between Leo Ashline’s moribund lyrics and the wrecking, pummeling waves of collaborator Shaun Ringsmuth’s electronics, the music is basically a bad friend encouraging a panic attack. It gets scary and fast in unclear ways, then burns you with its lighter and laughs at you. It’s difficult to hold onto, it’s jagged. It bludgeons you and makes your ears ring. I’m doing a drug reference, get it? It’s worth your time.

Choice lyrics:

“We are a virus/ We’re a product of bad luck/ We scream our way into existence/ Nine months after someone else gets fucked”

“Piss on your selflessness/ Fuck your forgiveness/ I don’t believe in redemption”

“Never forget that it’s not what you’ve done/ Or what you’ve done lately/ But what you are working on now”

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