Saturday, July 9, 2011
Review: Bone Awl - Sunless Xyggos
This review has some historical significance. I wrote it over a year ago for my blog Your New Favorite Band Sucks, a short-lived experiment in writing ONLY negative reviews of undeservedly popular bands. The polemical Hypehammer posts that we do at Trial By Ordeal are more or less a continuation of this idea. In fact, Noktorn got in touch with me about collaborating after reading this review on Metal Archives. So you could say that Trial By Ordeal began here...
Bone Awl play a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. On the basis of this description, I expected them to be my new favorite band. In this case, however, it was my new favorite band that sucked! Over the last year and a half I have listened to a number of their eps and demos. I tried very hard to like them, and for a long time said that I liked them, but recently realized that I never actually played their albums, and asked myself why.
Their newest release, the demo "Sunless Xyggos," distills their minimal style down to the most minimal minimum. As usual, there are a maximum of two riffs per song, and the "middle" riff, which works something like a mosh breakdown or a chorus, is usually a kind of variation on the first riff. What they have stripped away is the vocals...I may have heard a faint distorted yowl or two in the background, but there is pretty much no screaming going on here. In a sound that is purely drumbeat, riff, and vocals, this seems like it's a pretty serious reduction.
In this reduction, we are getting the core of the Bone Awl style. The band is supposed to be driven by the power of pure repetitive riffage, surging over an unrelenting rhythmic assault. The guitar/bass and drums are supposed to speak for themselves. The problem is that they don't. For the amount of racket these guys are making, the music is pretty limp. The instruments don't usually work together to create a sense of onrushing motion, which is crucial to this kind of stuff. The riffs are not very fun or interesting to listen to. For the most part, the chords don't push and pull at each other, and the lack of any rhythmic variation whatsoever becomes a real problem at the plodding midtempo these guys always use (except in the one obligatory really slow godawfully boring song they stick at the end of each album).
The lackluster riffage might not be such a huge problem if we were given more than just a riff or two, sitting on top of a beat that does little more than keep time and give direction. The obsession with minimalism prevents this, so that the music undermines itself. If you're going to write a song dominated by one riff, it better be a fucking monster, and it's best if it engages with and plays off of other elements in the song. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," Metallica's "Am I Evil" (yeah I know it's a Diamond Head cover), and Discharge's "The Final Bloodbath" are all great examples of this.
"Sunless Xyggos," by giving us the purest realization of the Bone Awl concept, reveals what was going on all along. It is simply the most fully realized aesthetic statement in a discography that is nothing but a series of aesthetic statements. In other words, Bone Awl aren't really anything aside from their hypothetically cool sound. The songs are just collections of sonic elements, selected because they are cool. The construction of their songs, and the musical work these songs accomplish, is incidental to their primary goal, which is simply to be a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. This is nothing but style.