Watching the various members of Man Is The Bastard gravitate towards different projects and broaden their musical palette has been almost as fascinating as the endlessly listenable mutant hardcore the band itself pioneered back in the early 90’s. To quickly recap, amp crafter and all-round technological alchemist Henry Barnes went on to combine free-wheeling noise and whimsical folk with the joyously eclectic Amps For Christ, whilst Aaron Kenyon flexed his musical muscle with the instrumental progressive rock of Djam Karet, and Eric Wood’s Bastard Noise has seen a continuation of MITB’s noise experiments blossom into an ever-evolving sonic beast determined to boldly pilot its way into the unchartered musical terrain that no others fear to tread.
Bastard Noise have recently revealed ‘Skulldozer’, their latest foray into the unknown. The sleeve notes declare that this is their “third chapter in sound”, the first being their many acres of noise exploration and the second being the sludgy new direction they unveiled on the split with the sadly defunct Endless Blockade, and further refined with 2010’s incredible ‘A Culture Of Monsters’. These three distinctions certainly make sense and provide a handy reference point to the band’s daunting discography for newcomers, but I can’t help but think that lumping all of the pre-Red List material into a single category kind of does a disservice to the sheer amount of progression, variety and inventiveness Bastard Noise displayed throughout this period. Compare the harsh, no holds barred sensory assault of Voice Pie (the band’s split release with Merzbow) to the deep, atmospheric voyage that is Rogue Astronaut for instance, and it should become apparent just how diverse Noise of the Bastard variety can be. But regardless of which manifestation of the band we should call this, it’s safe to say that ‘Skulldozer’ is an absolute monster of a record, that’s sure to satisfy anyone who’s made Skull Worship a regular part of their life.
The title track begins with some spacious, almost Blade Runner-esque synths before that immediately recognisable bass tone staggers into the view. The song has a kind of gradual, triumphant flow to it, and is an impressive way to herald the next incarnation of the band. One of the most immediately apparent changes that springs out here is the welcome addition of Aimee Artz on vocals and electronics. Her high pitched, elongated screams feel like sandpaper brushing slowly across your ears (in the best possible way, of course) and provide a great textural contrast to Eric Wood’s subsonic gurgles.
This intense introduction is followed by the minute long rager ‘B.T.P.’, which feels a lot closer in spirit to the MITB days, but Aimee’s distinctive rasp lends it a character all of its own. ‘Earth On A Stretcher’s plodding dirge is complemented by warm waves of noise, and ‘The Final Days… (Of Our Shit Species)’ twists and turns through a labyrinth of complex rhythmical shifts, squealing feedback loops and elastic bass acrobatics, complete with Wood’s furious caveman roar and those classic head spinning grooves he seems to effortlessly produce. Former MITB sticksman Joel Connell is on fire here, keeping up with Wood’s crazed rhythms and sounding incredible in the process.
The noise experiments of the past haven’t been forgotten about though, with ’50 Million Light Years From…’ providing an incredible deep space excursion, and CD-only bonus track ‘Demise By Radiation’ delivering a sonic experience that emulates the grim fate of the title rather well. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the soft, richly atmospheric piece ‘Rachel’, a tribute to the late Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer whilst trying to protect a Palestinian home from destruction. Similar in feel to the previous record’s ‘If Another World…’, the song’s warm, melancholy guitar resembles one of latter day King Crimson’s more subdued moments more than it does anything from the powerviolence canon, and it’s a head-turning yet genuinely beautiful addition to the Bastard Noise repertoire.
‘Skulldozer’ feels sparser then ‘A Culture Of Monsters’ yet somehow denser, as if the hyperactive and frenetic aural onslaught of that record has given way to a slower, more menacing approach, not unlike that of a bulldozer itself, trundling across the landscape and slowly but surely destroying all in its path. This album feels incredibly fresh, and is a worthy and exciting new chapter in Bastard Noise’s vast and fascinating discography. Where they’ll go from here is anyone’s guess, but if they keep on putting out releases as essential as this one, it’s going to be awesome accompanying them for the ride.