Punishment Through Time

January 16th, 2019

Holocene, by Horehound 

Our Raw Heart, by YOB

“It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced. The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed 

“An audience of old stone in ancient theatre, watching a circle made hard to last. Each rock a number against years to come.” – Douglas Noble, Counting Stones: A hymn of Castlerigg

I’m a metal dilettante, always have been, but 2018 was a good year for really wallowing in some bad feelings, what with ever escalating anti-refugee rhetoric that can only act as an appetiser for brutality, anti-trans campaigning from “moderates” who’d call their own arguments out if they saw them applied elsewhere, the fact that people in power are so wedded to what they have that we’re all fully booked up for climate change and mass death in our lifetime, endless dead storytelling, the flailing triumph of tactics over strategy…  all of this served as my excuse for listening to endless spiralling riffs and blown out shredder symphonies last year.

The connection between the music and my mood is probably bollocks, mind, but I’m in my mid-30s now and I sometimes need to lie to myself about my indulgences. Thankfully, Horehound were there to help me out at the end of  2018. Their sludgy blues takes the idea of defeat for granted, uses it as a starting point, even – the first words on Holocene are “Rise/Rise/We take and give nothing”, words that are howled with revulsion, an embittered acknowledgement of a detested status quo.

Defiance follows, a yearning for a break that is so dramatic as to seem impossible (‘Twelve numbers cannot/Represent all of time”), but whether Shy Kennedy’s voice is cutting through the racket or adding a harrowed texture to the riffs, it’s never the voice of someone in denial about where we are. Knowledge is everything here. As Kennedy sings on ‘Dier’s Dirge’, “What we’ve become, can’t be undone/What we’ve destroyed, can’t be undone”.

Like most of the metal albums I end up sticking on repeat (I’m dilettante, remember), Holocene shows me up for the terrified-but-not-entirely-defeated creature I am, because for all that apocalyptic preamble there’s still a strain of unreconstructed humanism in me that finds an expression in my taste.

Kennedy can growl demonic with the best of them, but she leans heavily on her more traditionally melodic singing voice throughout this album, and while Horehound build up a pulverising groove on every track on Holocene it’s always rhythm as melody, very much the work of a band who want to lull you in during their quiet moments just so you’re sitting close enough when they really let lose.

Mournful but devastating, lost in itself but obviously a work of a collective who are perfectly in tune with each other, Holocene makes its well worn loud/quiet/really fucking loud dynamic feel fresh because those doomy, noodly passages feel like they’re carrying a great weight, a weight that’s temporarily lifted when the band get stuck in and let the screaming start.

While YOB’s Our Raw Heart has its fair share of melodies and plenty of tracks where Mike Scheidt shows off a vocal style that wouldn’t have been out of place on one of the better Soundgarden albums, it’s also got some proper grinding noise on it. The riff that kicks off ‘The Screen’, for example, sounds like a found object, like a a lump of granite that the band have somehow worked a song into.

For all this pure heaviness, there’s something paradoxical about the songs on Our Raw Heart. For all that they sound immovable, I’m halfway convinced that they’re different each time I listen, so returning to this album has something of the feeling of walking through some familiar ruins only to find that they don’t match your memory.

There’s an element of doubt in the mix, one that runs contrary to the machinations of the Horehound record which – for all its range and fury – is definitely built to allow the band to do a job and do it well.

What sort of construct have YOB built, then, in this album?

The discussion around Our Raw Heart has focused on Scheidt’s near death experience, but while there’s something of the sort of feverish delirium of serious illness to these songs the final effect isn’t bound to any one set of circumstances. Beauty, love, and a sense of home… all of these things are glimpsed for a moment, albeit it’s a moment that lasts for over 15 minutes on record. Suffering is a live concern on all of these songs though, something that cannot be taken as a starting place because all idea of beginning and end are – in the moment, in that same moment where beauty was found – perpetually scrambled.

Or to put it another way: “There is nothing else/This is all there is/There is nothing else/The original face”.

The cumulative effect is strangely tender, with the concluding title track opening up to a range of experience beyond itself.

Taken together, these albums present us with two different but complimentary lessons learned from pain (and yes, I did write awful poetry as a teenager, why do you ask?). Without the sort of well worn awareness of quite how own fucked we are you get on Holocene it might, perversely, be hard to imagine any way forward together. Without the endlessly anguished movement of Our Raw Heart, however, it might get a bit too easy to forget that worse is happening right now, that not all pain is distributed equally, and that even if we’ve got the bonds we need to survive built into our lives there are outrageous things happening everywhere all the time that demand our action.

Leave a Reply