Since releasing “the grossest pop album of all time” in 2016, the members of Portland’s The Body have kept themselves busy with two collaborations with Full of Hell and a self-released mini-album. Even so, the sludge metal interlopers’ cacophonic experimentation remained ornamental, against strangulated cries, crushing riffs and caveman rhythm.
Unsatisfied with simply mutating extreme metal orthodoxies, the duo now throws the baby out with the bathwater and rebuilds itself from the ground up with a seventh LP. I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer carves divergent paths of fearless idiosyncrasy with samples and electronics in the forefront.
Guitarist-vocalist Chip King and drummer Lee Buford have an affinity for collaboration with others. That’s a tradition that continues this outing with seven contributing artists—including four vocalists. The opener, “The Last Form of Loving,” introduces Laura Gulley’s somber violin and viola cadencing in Chrissy Wolpert’s forlorn singing. The chorister bids farewell to pleasantry as gurgling noise crescendos into the spacious atmospheres of “Can Carry No Weight.”
Disembodied voices and celestial keyboards create shoegazey ambiance alongside a grating static. King uses distortion effects to bring his unnerving shrieks to unprecedented levels of panicked despondence. Pulsating bass drum sampling propels the track as singer Kristina Hayter’s heavenly performance soars over the murk. The jarring amalgamation retains harmonious serenity, foreshadowing the album’s thunder-struck terror and euphonic melancholy.
Even when The Body’s recognizable attributes begin to surface, I Have Fought Against It… abounds with grotesque aural deformity. Buford’s tomtom hits send “Partly Alive” galloping into harrowing synth drones as Uniform frontman Michael Berdan animalistically brays, “I’ve come away from my mind, through my own fails and lies.”
The track’s repetitive ritualism takes on a death industrial feel, but soon acquires rattling hi-hats and four-on-the-floor reminiscent intelligent dance music. A lumbering backbeat ties the song to its sluggish modulations, staying true to the band’s slow-motion catharsis in the midst of its anarchic scare-factor.
Hints of The Body’s musical lineage finds its footing throughout the record, like the industrial hip-hop ball-breaker “The West Has Failed.” Where its predecessor left room for atmosphere, this cut goes straight for the jugular with a nasty beat bludgeoning through detuned guitar strains. King’s caterwauls pierce thick distortion, painting an unforgiving picture of societal collapse. This audial destruction leaves room for other tracks to emphasize more nuanced emotions.
The most “traditional” song on I Have Fought Against It…, the mid-tempo dance beat of lead single “Nothing Stirs” slowly gains layers of toned feedback as Hayter’s second appearance embodies the arresting dynamics of her project Lingua Ignota. Heartbreaking violin modulations and overblown half-time drums gain prominence as her powerful melodies turn to manic shrieking.
Over this depressive blunderbuss, Sandworm screamer Ben Eberle reiterates her final words in his raw black metal rasp, “When your love is gone/ What is left/ At night a prayer of death/ At day a curse of life/ March on.”
In the album’s later half, The Body implements its core instrumentation. Percussion assumes a familiar role on “Off Script,” serving a seismic brown noise bass line. King’s calls almost sound like feedback stabs with added reverb, while Eberle’s snarls add still more harshness to the synthetic dirge. Similarly, Buford’s clipped drum mix becomes as noisy as the clamorous anti-riffs at the heart of “An Urn,” even competing with Hayter when she completely loses her mind in a nihilistic diatribe.
Though it begins with a noisescape out of the Whitehouse handbook, “Blessed, Alone” exemplifies the balance that The Body strikes between hideousness and beauty. The song’s build to leveling sludge doom actually enhances Wolpert’s sorrowful serenade, distant piano and enchanting string drones. “Sickly Heart Of Sand” epitomizes this complementary dichotomy as Berdan, Hayter and King trade verses over oscillated drums and impregnable guitar riffs. The Body uses sonic pandemonium to a stupefying effect, but their vulnerable message has the last say.
“Ten Times A Day, Every Day, A Stranger” spans eight minutes with a reading from Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude, over which mournful piano chords and haunting field recordings lay the album to rest. In the depths of despair, loneliness and self-loathing, this final cut brings the album’s true purpose into focus. Its lurching chaos departs from whatever convention remained The Body’s sound, while manifesting delicate undercurrents in the most unlikely of places.
I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer stands as a crucial point of evolution, and a vexing journey worthy of the Virginia Woolf quote after which it’s named.
Follow writer Max Heilman at Twitter.com/madmaxx1995.