It’s great when a metal record is able to downright scare you, isn’t it? All of black metal’s earnest devil-worship can be fun in a cheesy way, ((Not that cheesy Satanic black metal doesn’t have its place, mind you. The live shows of Watain and Gorgoroth have attained legendary status at this point, and it’s always tons of fun to subject your parents to some Mayhem on long family drives and totally freak them out.)) but that moment when the music itself unnerves you on a primal level is when you know you’ve got a gem on your hands. It’s not hard to imagine how frightening the first track ((If you haven’t listened to this before, I’m beginning to wonder how you haven’t been burned and died yet. You false.)) on Black Sabbath’s self-titled LP was to the layman of 1969, and to this day that tritone riff will still send shivers up and down your spine. Godflesh’s Streetcleaner and Eyehategod’s Take As Needed For Pain are just as arresting today as they were twenty years ago, and realms outside of metal are certainly no stranger to evoking aural terror. Big Black’s Songs About Fucking and Oxbow’s King of the Jews easily make it into my Top 5 Albums To Put On When You Want To Clear Out A Party And Make Everyone Who’s Brave Enough To Stay Feel Really Really Uncomfortable. Fear is an essential ingredient in the more abrasive forms of extreme music, but it’s hard to balance abrasiveness with unlistenability – you want to creep your listener out, but you want them to keep listening at the same time! Enter The Body, a nihilistic Rhode Island-based sludge/doom duo with a penchant for avant-garde orchestration. Their second LP All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood, with the two members hooded in wicker on the cover and displaying an arsenal of firearms painstakingly arranged on a table in the gatefold, is a grueling test of endurance that skirts the line between enrapturing and impenetrably harrowing – at its worst it’s comparable to Sunn O))) at their most impenetrable and claustrophobic, which is still quite impressive; at best, it truly sounds like the end of the world. Make no mistake, this is some opening-of-the-Seventh-Seal shit right here.
The first thing evident on All The Waters is the daunting list of collaborators involved in the effort. The record boasts guest spots from the Assembly of Light Women’s Choir, a string ensemble, a low-end horn section complete with sousaphone and baritone sax, seven additional drummers on the closing track, and a host of effects and electronics wizards. When all the elements of the arrangements synergize, the result is downright apocalyptic. Take the sublime opening of “A Body,” heralded in by the dulcet harmonies of the women’s choir before everything comes crashing down at the six-minute mark – Chip King’s high-pitched shrieks and percussive guitarwork combined with Lee Buford’s thunderous battery create a sudden chaos that breaks through the tranquility like a wrecking ball drenched with gore. Glimpses of melody are rare, with a hint of traditional song structure on the post-Godflesh drum-machine-aided trudge of “A Curse,” and most of the time the album traffics in abrasive sounds and what can best be described as anti-music – take “Empty Hearth,” where a sample of Pentecostal Christian tongue-speaking is looped, chopped up, and time-stretched to create an unnerving mantric drone as King shrieks above it all while coming from the Justin Broadrick school of not so much playing the guitar as attacking it, and Buford adds a grinding rhythmic lurch best suited to a chain gang in Hell, reminiscent of the early work of Swans. The more traditional atonal and sludgy tracks, while no doubt more than effective at cultivating an atmosphere of purest dread, do tend to wear out their welcome with an overabundance of rhythmic repetition. It’s where the group displays the unorthodox elements of their arrangements that the album truly shines, like on the apocalyptic closer “Lathspell I Name You,” where an ominous melody evolves from the choir’s harmonizing over two repeatedly hammered guitar chords, and the vision of doom is eclipsed by a battery of eight drummers simultaneously pounding the skins as if their lives depended on it, only to fall back into an aching, sludgy groove. Although All The Waters can drag on occasion and can also be a bit too much to take for even the most seasoned doomhead in places, it’s probably one of the best aural representations we’ll ever have of the First Plague of Egypt.