Release Date: 12 Mar 2021
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I've seen the memorable name of Pupil Slicer—clearly someone stumbled upon Un Chien Andalou, or at least the one famous clip from it—crop up in a few places so I thought I should check out what looks like their debut full length album, following some EPs. They're definitely an interesting band, though they're hardly going to be everyone's tastes. I usually see them defined as post-metal, but I see telling genres listed on their Bandcamp page like grindcore, mathcore and powerviolence. The one that I'm thinking rings truest is "chaotic hardcore".
That's because this is both wild and tight, often delivered at a breakneck speed but with a solid level of technical ability. There's a lot of stop and start with this band but everyone stops and starts at the same time and they shift tempo just as seamlessly. A blisteringly short song like Stabbing Spiders, all over and done with in a mere forty-seven seconds, comes very close to grindcore, but it's performed with guitars tuned in a very modern American metalcore style and there's too much else going on to be pure grindcore.
By the time L'appel du Vide, a much longer three minute song with a further thirty seconds of what is perhaps a manipulated electronic take on the intro to Metallica's Damage, Inc., was over, I'd figured out the obvious comparison and it's a surprising one. Back in 1992, the BRIT Awards, which featured a performing line-up of pop artists like Seal, Simply Red and Lisa Stansfield, opened with the legendary combination of avant garde techno pranksters, the KLF, and crust punk band Extreme Noise Terror. It was an unusual artistic statement, especially given the audience, but it seems to me that Pupil Slicer might just have stumbled onto that on YouTube and been inspired to start a band.
That's because L'appel du Vide, like the rest of the album to varying degrees, is rhythmic in ways that go far beyond the impressive drums of Josh Andrews. The vocals are spat out in rhythmic bursts like a machine gun, the guitar sometimes resembles a cycling siren, and there's artistic manipulation of the song, whether performed live or added in post. There's a fascinating backing vocal partway that's just as melodic as the song itself isn't. It sounds good to me, but it also sounds as much like an artistic statement as a song.
There's performance art here from the outset. Kate Davies delivers the expected screams and other ultra-harsh gutturals but they're far beyond the more straightforward backing vocals of bassist Luke Fabian and there are points where they feel painful. Martys, for example, which opens up the album with a vengeance, features vocals with the expected harshness until, well, they go much further. The intensity level increases until, by the end of the song, it sounds as if she's in actual, serious pain, like she's just swallowed a vial of acid and her throat's dissolving as she performs.
After a few tracks, I started to wonder what this looks like visually. Husk is fast and furious, but it also gets downright sludgy at points and the longer it runs, the sludgier it gets. The last couple of minutes of Mirrors are More Fun Than Television is even sludgier. And what does it look like? There ought to be a visual component to this. What's going on at the beginning of Worthless, when it's just bass under a drone? Then again, what's going on when it gets moving? It sounds utterly destructive. At least Pupil Slicer put a music video together for the minute and change Interlocutor and it's as dark as it sounds, telling quite the self-destructive story in such a short time, but still leaving room for a very impactful ending.
The closest musical comparison I can conjure up is the debut Dillinger Escape Plan album, Calculating Infinity, but that's a slow motion version of this album. It shares the mathcore insanity of a song like 43% Burnt and even a guitar sound, but this is much heavier, the vocals are much more raucous and the stylistic chameleon play is much more extreme. If that sounds like your sort of thing, then this is going to be so your thing that you'll have found a new favourite band. Otherwise, this will probably scare you.
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