Water Torture Pillbox

[Nerve Altar; 2014]

Styles: powerviolence, hardcore, grindcore
Others: Infest, Curmudgeon, +HIRS+

It wouldn’t be fair to describe Water Torture as a band that “swings,” to use the parlance favored by Pitchfork in its mid-2000s attempts to sell Pig Destroyer to indie kids seeking harder shit. But these Buffalo-based musicians, who stand at a cross-section of noise, powerviolence, and grindcore, with the occasional bit of sludge, are remarkably fluid in the wider senses of the word, eschewing the mechanistic rigidity favored by other groups residing in their shared framework for a looser style, with freer tempo shifts and more diffuse genre markers, a blurring of borders and structures forming a governing principle. The downpour remains torrential, the emotional landscape etched exclusively in shades of grey, but within that torrent come near-organically shifting variants in modes of attack. It’s an approach both macro and micro, with Pillbox seesawing between pure harsh electronics, ambient droning, sludge-inflected asides, and 30-second blitzes all while remaining consistent in tone; there’s no showboating genre-jumping or bursts of emoting to rupture the bleak surface tension of the thing. Their shredded-throat shrieks are in earnest, for sure, but they’re almost subdued, hopelessness taking the foreground, a blunted, self-defeat(ing/ed) fury.

This particular mode of approach allows Water Torture to avoid the dude-bro aggro vibes that form a particularly noxious part of the powerviolence/hardcore scene, lending the album an enveloping rather than assaultive quality. But it also results in a peculiar affect that seems decidedly contemporary for a group whose genre touchstones remain fairly established since the mid 90s. If industrial music and early hardcore attempt to mirror a particular mode of 80s neoliberal angst, Water Torture seemed primed to echo the peculiar state of its contemporary form, with listeners left in a point of rigidly maintained flux, the potential of disintegration as the structuring and reifying element. Pillbox is monotonous and bleak and upsetting, but the forms out of which this fabric is built are multiple, mutable, and fleeting, the mode being a particularly apt substantiation of the contemporary worker, where the part-timer and the freelancer, rather than the company man, form the idealized until of production. The specifics change continually, but the timbre and tone are constant. It’s a ragged construction, a sonic superstructure crisscrossed by multiple trajectories, reducible to none of them and yet very much a totality.

It’s important to emphasize that there is a pleasure here, the pleasure of hearing familiar forms reworked and presented again, and the associated community generated by a shared understanding of the pleasures inherent in specific genre forms. Water Torture know the community to which they play — those people who like Despise You and Infest, but who aren’t ready to set them in amber — and understand in a very pragmatic way the tension between familiarity and invention that is the core of virtually all rock- and pop-derived musics. Water Torture are hardly a vanguardist group, which sets them aside from much of what this website champions, but there’s something crucial in the specific politics of gestures in albums like Pillbox, wherein the radical politics bound up in their associated milieu and community become as much an instinctual element as a physical response to certain modes of “assaultive sounds.” In this context, the self-loathing inherent in their approach is both a political statement and a form of generating community. In embracing its lineage while quietly unsettling that lineage’s structures, Water Torture quietly — in a certain sense of the word — form one part of the growing swath of bands bringing powerviolence and hardcore into contact with contemporary culture in intriguing and edifying ways.

Links: Water Torture - Nerve Altar

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