With today’s news that pioneering hip-hop label Def Jux is going on hiatus, I figured now is a good time to highlight the one track that put this label on the map for me. Fittingly, it’s the first track off of their first record release, Cannibal Ox’s The Cold Vein. “Iron Galaxy” immediately caught my ear as something different thanks to El-P’s incredibly dense production, all futuristic and cold and industrial like something a lone astronaut stranded in some abandoned, decaying space station would compose.
And then there are the rhymes: Vordul Mega’s lyrics are all but incomprehensible to me, but Vast Aire has a few lines that have always stuck with me: “You were a stillborn baby/Mother didn’t want you but you were still born” early in his turn, and later, this amazingly bleak depiction of the city:
Battered wives, molested children
Roaches on the floor, rats in the ceiling
Cats walk around New York with two fillin’s
One is in the mouth, the other does the killin’
Also there is a genius mean/median/mode reference for all the math geeks out there. Priceless.
It’s always difficult to pinpoint things like this, but “Slit Your Guts” (listen below) might be the one single song that really got me into death metal. I found None So Vile at Borders while on a family trip to Phoenix. I can’t recall why I bought it; it wasn’t on sale — my spreadsheet says I paid $15.99 for it — but I must have read some flattering comments about it in one of the infrequent metal threads on rmp or ProgressiveEars.
My only previous extreme metal experience was mostly driven by Opeth circa Still Life, so I was completely unprepared for the ferocity of the Cryptopsy record when I popped it into my Discman (yes, I’m dating myself here; this was in December 2002). My first reaction was to laugh out loud. Unlike most extreme metal albums, None So Vile comes with liner notes that actually include lyrics. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to understand the vocals, but I was probably imagining something along the lines of Mikael Akerfeldt’s growl; while guttural, Akerfeldt is clearly signing words. Cryptopsy’s Lord Worm does no such thing. He just pretty much grunts rhythmically, and I thought it was hilarious (plus, the guy calls himself “Lord Worm”). I was also bewildered: when are the real vocals going to come in?
By the time “Slit Your Guts,” the second song on the album, came on, I realized that Lord Worm’s grunts were the real vocals, and I was too transfixed by Flo Mournier’s light-speed drumming to care. “That’s gotta be a drum machine,” I remember thinking. “Hell, that’s probably two drum machines.” After only hearing midtempo, melodic psuedo-death metal to that point in my life, the speed, brutality and precision of this stuff was completely blowing my mind.
It took a few listens before I was able to adjust to the rapid-fire pace of the record and really parse what was going on. “Slit Your Guts” was the first track that I really understood. The main riff is played insanely fast using a razor-sharp, almost thin guitar tone, an intriguing contrast to Lord Worm’s massively deep and relatively midtempo vocal lines. Around the one-minute mark, Lord Worm takes a breather and, impossibly, we get a pair of guitar solos that are even faster than the main riff. The first lasts all of eight seconds; the second lasts five. Despite — or perhaps because of — their brevity, they ratchet up the intensity of the song to a whole new level.
These solos are followed by what I’m tempted to call the first breakdown in the history of metal music, although I don’t know my metal/hardcore history well enough to get the timeline right. After another couple vocal sections, there’s another solo around the three-minute mark, this one an epic length of 25 seconds while still being faster than the main riff. Then there’s another proto-breakdown: fifteen seconds of headbanging heaven, before the main riff kicks back in to close out the song with a bang.
At no point in this entire song is there a break in intensity; if anything, the various transitions to solos, bridges, and breakdowns consistently increase the ferocity rather than the other way around. None So Vile is a great album, but “Slit Your Guts” is clearly the gem. I put this song on a mix CD full of modern grindcore songs, and to my surprise and pleasure, it more than held its own in terms of complexity and sheer fist-pumping awesomeness. Just as Gorguts‘ Obscura remains a pinnacle in complex metal even 14 years later, Cryptopsy’s effort from the same year can still take on all comers and come out on top in terms of sheer inventiveness, technicality and brutality.
First in what might or might not be a consistent series, in which I talk briefly about a specific song I can’t stop listening to.
Over the Rhine are a low-key husband-and-wife folk ensemble whose music incorporates elements of jazz, rock, and soul in equal and sometimes unpredictable measure. “Lifelong Fling” appears on what is widely considered their flagship release, 2003’s double album Ohio. The band’s R&B inflections come to the fore here, as Karin Bergquist’s vocals are oddly slurred, incredibly soulful, and absolutely bewitching. Some oblique slide guitar solos and a smoky, jazzy piano melody round out what has become my favorite Over the Rhine song. Just gorgeous stuff.
Also, the song opens with the line “The moon blindsided the sky again,” which is easily one of the more artful lyrics about nightfall that I can think of.