Thursday, January 26, 2017

Tanakh - Unwilling

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I am a bit of a morning person.  I like to get up early, have a cup of coffee or six, and make breakfast before heading off to work, and sometimes that leaves me time to look for new music.  I know I've mentioned before that "look for new music" usually starts with checking out No Clean Singing, which is what I did the other morning.  There were quite a few great things that jumped out at me, but as you've no doubt surmised, the one that really caught my attention was an embed of the debut EP Unwilling by Sioux Falls, South Dakota band Tanakh.  Tanakh features Nick Murphy on vocals and Michael Iverson on all the instruments, which would be impressive even if the music on Unwilling were half as good as it actually is.  Being that it's actually pretty great, it's pretty mind-bendingly impressive.

"Sundoggodnus" kicks things off with a psychedelic sludge dirge that sort of sounds like Primitive Man on qualuudes.  Which would be a great album to have, except after a few minutes of this, the music fades out, and then Iverson kicks his drum kit into high gear and then *BAM* "Sunddoggodnus" is a feverish, blistering blackish death metal track.  That segment soon fades, and through the dust of your crushed expectation enters a vocal sample from the first season of True Detective.  Maybe it's just because I don't often recognize the source of vocal samples, but this one really stood out to me as being great; one of the best exchanges from a well-written show, inserted in a way that impacts the emotional resonance of the song.  Which, of course, has changed again after the sample, this time to a crushing doom track.  Throughout all of these changes, Iverson's music (especially the drums, which are as good throughout the album as any I've heard anywhere) completely morphs, becoming a different genre, as opposed to just aping stylistic cues.  Murphy's voice is similarly adept, going from raging snarl to pained howl to piercing shriek at the drop of a hat.

"Nocturnus Infernus" and "Macrocosm" don't jump around in styles the way "Sundoggodnus" does; instead, the two songs are content to be pulverizing, Ulcerate-heavy doses of absolutely crushing death metal.  The tinkling melody buried underneath "Macrocosm" is like a breath of fresh air amidst an avalanche of riffs; honestly the first time I listened to "Macrocosm" on my way into work I realized I was holding my breath, probably because I just assumed it would be impossible to breath while listening to such a thing.  "Unwilling" then brings Unwilling to a close by being both a black metal track and a death metal track, and also by bringing Iverson's drumming to the forefront to shine.  Unwilling is an absurdly well-drummed album, even within the confines of being a really strong album musically and vocally; I don't want it to put down any other aspect of the EP, but holy FUCK are the drums on this record great!

After discovering Unwilling, I started messaging with NCS' head honcho Islander, talking about how good the album is, and he made a comment along the lines of "And from Sioux Falls of all places."  Now, I just finished Season 2 of the tv show Fargo, in which some truly bonkers and gratuitously violent shit goes down in Sioux Falls, so I wasn't as fazed.  Of COURSE this came from Sioux Falls!  This anecdote is apropos of nothing, except it's interesting to me, you should watch Fargo because it's good, and it came out of nowhere to completely subvert your expectations for the day, just like Unwilling did for me earlier this week.  I've written quite a few reviews about bands blurring the lines between genres, and as I typically only review albums I enjoy, it's probably fair to say I enjoy music that doesn't easily fit into one neat little box (with a bow!).  And while Unwilling is a stellar EP, it's not quite accurate to say that Tanakh blurs genre lines so much as the band moves in between them, seamlessly, effortlessly, and incredibly.  Unwilling is one of the hardest albums to try and categorize simply because of the way it moves from misanthropic sludge to brutally intense death metal to something that resembles atmospheric doom the way a hurricane resembles a passing drizzle.  Across a full-length album, genre skipping - even when it's done this well - can get tedious, as though a band can't decide what it wants to do and so it just throws everything at the wall and records whatever sticks.  EPs are far more forgiving of this sonic experimentation, and Unwilling takes full advantage.  Nick Murphy's vocals are so, so good, but I still can't get past Michael Iverson being responsible for all of the music on this incredible debut.  Unwilling is out now, and you can and should pick it up here.

- Durf

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