Review of Arc by Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Band: Agoraphobic Nosebleed
Album: Arc
Release Date: 22 January 2016
Record Label: Relapse Records
Buy on CD ($11) or digital ($6) or vinyl ($19) from: Bandcamp

Arc by Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Locals Agoraphobic Nosebleed have been very active lately. They recently started performing their first live shows at various festivals around the world (including their first ever live performance at last year’s Maryland Deathfest). Now they’re working on putting out a series of EPs that each feature a different band member’s musical tastes. When I heard the first of these was going to be a slower, more sludgey album I knew that DCHM writer Buzzo Jr would be perfect to review it since he is a fan of both grind and sludge metal. What follows is his take on the first studio recording of this new era for Agoraphobic Nosebleed. And don’t forget to stream a track from it at the end of this post!

Grindcore legends Agoraphobic Nosebleed have been delivering hyperspeed audio assaults fueled by manic riffs and machine gun tempo drum machines since the early 90’s. The band have since experimented with harsh noise, power electronics, and crossover thrash. Their experimentation continues with Arc, the first in the series of EPs the band is releasing that will each have a separate style representing a different member’s musical taste. Driven by vocalist Kat Katz, Arc is definitely a major departure from the ultra fast grind/crossover style Agoraphobic Nosebleed is infamous for, and instead is a slow, heavy, 3 song slab of sludge metal. If this was your first time listening to them, I’m pretty sure you would be quite surprised to learn that this is the same band that released Altered States of America; a frantic 100 song EP clocking in at only 20 minutes.

Arc gets the ball rolling with “Not a Daughter,” a relentlessly groovy track that at some points sounds almost upbeat with its swaying, southern feel. I don’t think anyone has ever dared to use the term “catchy” to describe an Agoraphobic Nosebleed song, but I’ll be damned if I can find a better description for the bluesy, pulsating riffs that guitarist Scott Hull unleashes here. Hull, also of local grindcore band Pig Destroyer, has flirted with slower, doomy material in the past on some Agoraphobic Nosebleed tracks and with Pig Destroyer’s Mass & Volume EP, but on this album it seems as if he’s actually been in at least 3 secret sludge bands. The riffs here are something I would expect from seasoned sludge veterans like Jimmy Bower of Eyehategod or Buzz Osbourne of the Melvins. The mid paced grooves of “Not a Daughter” soon give way to the next track, “Deathbed.” Any sense of slight optimism that may have been heard in the first track are now all but gone, with the pace coming to a slow dirge that creeps along with a spiteful sonic intensity. Agoraphobic Nosebleed has always been instantly recognizable for their use of incredibly fast drum machine blast beats, giving their early releases an almost machine like feel to them. Scott Hull’s programming skills have vastly improved throughout the years however, and on Arc the pounding drumbeats feel completely organic; at times I almost completely forgot that Agoraphobic Nosebleed didn’t have a drummer. The methodical pace of the drums on this album show that Hull definitely knows what he’s doing. Hull also handles the basswork on all of the tracks, and while not as exceptional as his guitar work, the flowing basslines on all of the tracks provide a great backbone to the rest of the music. The EP soon comes to a close with “Gnaw”, a mammothly crushing track filled to the brim with slow, sinister riffs and tormented screams. Vocalist Kat Katz is front and center on this album, with her howling screams and low growls echoing along with Scott Hull’s brilliant guitar and drum work. Kat is no stranger to doom and sludge, as many will remember her amazing vocals from her time in local doom band Salome. While not exactly a replication of past work, it’s great to hear Kat’s amazing vocals alongside slower material once again. Apart from the major change in tempo and number of songs, another huge change that listeners will notice about Arc is the subject matter of the tracks. You won’t find any songs like “Dick to Mouth Resuscitation” or “Druggernaut Jug Fuck” on here. The morbid comedy of past Agoraphobic Nosebleed tracks are instead replaced with much more personal tone. The lyrics on Arc are all written by Kat Katz, and revolve around her dealing with the death of her mother who suffered from schizophrenia. The intense personal meaning in the songs gives even more weight to them; with the emotional severity adding to the bleak tone the album already conveys.

The band is planning to release the rest of the EPs later this year, and I’m pretty psyched to hear how they differ from this and all of the previous Agoraphobic releases. Those of you who were expecting just another hyperspeed offering of grindcore may be disappointed, but if you’re open to a band experimenting with vastly different musical influences, and are a fan of slow, Black Sabbath worshipping tunes, then this is for you. Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s Arc is a major departure from the sound we know them for, but it’s proof that experimentation can bring forth great results. For those still sad about Salome breaking up (myself included) this is a great way to appease your need for more local sludge driven by Kat’s peircing howls. Definitely give this album a listen and don’t miss Agoraphobic Nosebleed when they play their first ever local headline show at the Black Cat in May!

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