A Quietus Review: Fucked On A Pile of Corpses by Skullflower (September 27th, 2011)

skullflower_1317121159_crop_180x180Fucked on a Pile of Corpses – now there’s a title to get the self-appointed arbiters of good taste in a bit of a state. But this is Skullflower we’re talking about, not only just about the most consistently excellent band to have emerged murkily from the UK underground in the last two-and-a-half decades, but also one of the most intelligent and profound. The title may at first suggest the kind of crassly provocative nonsense favoured by teenage black metal enthusiasts, but anyone remotely familiar with the music of Skullflower will know that, behind the harsh words and violent imagery lies a thoughtful balancing of twin notions of ecstasy and decay. Fucked on a pile of corpses – what could be more electrifying or more hideous? Even more than My Bloody Valentine or Slint, Skullflower has, since 1988’s Birthdeath EP, epitomized the way in which crushing volume and relentless brutality can go hand in hand with ecstatic bliss.

If anything, the band’s creative genius, Matt Bower, has got even better at melding the tantric and the deafening as he’s slowly, and noisily, joined the ranks of alternative rock’s elder statesmen. Cold Spring were quick to advertise Fucked on a Pile of Corpses as just about the most extreme album Bower’s ever produced under the Skullflower moniker and, while I might argue in favour of 2006’s noise guitar masterpiece Tribulation, there is no denying that this latest offering is just about as ferocious, violent and deafeningly loud as they come.

The album bursts into (after?)life with ‘Hanged Man’s Seed’ (yeah, anyone upset by the album’s title is liable to find track names like this, or ‘Tantrik Ass Rape’ to be beyond the pale), a startling (and startlingly brief) explosion of electronics-driven noise, complete with thumping drum machine rhythms and distorted modular synth mess. Given that since Bower resurrected the Skullflower project he appeared to be dedicating his efforts to finding the best way to gain desolation and enlightenment through the mauling of customised guitars, the Whitehouse-esque staccatos of ‘Hanged Man’s Seed’ are almost a shock, and immediately bring to mind memories of Bower’s early days as a key figure on legendary Power Electronics label Broken Flag. The faux nostalgia continues a bit later on ‘Anubis Station’, where howling, disconnected vocals drift frighteningly behind a wall of distorted mulch, evoking the ghostly, horrified noise of Gary Mundy’s Ramleh circa Hole In The Heart, only with a layer of typically Bower-esque guitar mess slapped on top. In between, there’s a fleeting glance towards the band’s days as a quasi-doom metal act on ‘Viper’s Fang’, the only track to feature drums, which are combined with some insane crunching guitar riffage, to ensure the track wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 1990’s Xaman album. This is followed by a nod to Bower’s more recent explorations in Voltigeurs of amorphic guitar noise (‘Defiling Their Temples With Bestial Lust’).

At this point, Fucked on a Pile of Corpses could almost be in danger of becoming a Skullflower album per se, to quote Neil Young’s description of his 1989 opus Freedom, which appeared to deliberately cover every base the Loner had ever touched upon, from protest folk to lovelorn ballad to noisy rockers. Of course, Matt Bower is made of more perverse stuff than the Canadian, and just when you think you’ve nailed ‘Hanged Man’s Seed’ or ‘Viper’s Fang’ as staples of a particular facet of the Skullflower/Bower cannon, a sudden burst of noise, unexpected melody (these are some of the most song-like -relatively speaking- tracks Bower has released in yonks), guitar flourish or abrupt stop (all three opening tracks are under four minutes in length, making them amongst the shortest in recent Skullflower history) that leave you wondering what the hell you just witnessed and subjected your ears to. And by ‘Fairy Knife Hell’, you’ve been pitched headlong into new heights of Skullflower madness.

In the last year, I’ve seen Matt Bower perform live three times – twice in Voltigeurs (the rather fantastic and monolithic guitar duo he forms with Samantha Davies) and once in Skullflower. On two of those occasions, he and his bands were sharing a bill with some of the premier exponents of what I consider to be the best noise sub-genre to have emerged in years, namely the Harsh Noise Walls of The Rita, Vomir and Werewolf Jerusalem, among others. Of course, you could argue that Bower laid down the foundations of HNW years ago, particularly in Hototgisu, but there is a slight feeling on the second half of Fucked on a Pile of Corpses that he’s been somewhat inspired by his concert bedfellows, especially on ‘Tantrik Ass Rape’, the album’s high water mark, a remorseless deluge of hysterical formless noise that overwhelms the senses and leaves you staring into space, wrapped in sound, unable to focus on anything but the unrelenting tidal wave of sound conjured up by Bower and his acolytes. But if the ethos of HNW has certainly had an effect on this latest evolution of the Skullflower sound, it is never derivative, as the emotionally charged chords of Bower’s (and Davies’?) guitar bring a depth and humanity to Fucked on a Pile of Corpses that evades all but the very best harsh noise artists out there.

With Fucked on a Pile of Corpses, Bower has delivered the strongest, most cohesive (and, ironically, given the titanic length of its predecessor Strange Keys to Untune God’s Firmament, the shortest) Skullflower album since Tribulation, and maybe since before the band’s late-nineties hiatus. Coming from an unrepentant Skullflower nut like myself, that’s saying something, as everything they ever do is at least worthy of repeated listens. Beyond the crude title and sheer brutality this album displays, this is above all a powerful, hypnotic and emotionally affecting album, one that uses extreme volume, aggression and brawn to aim into indeterminate heavens, and pretty much hits the target. Easily one of the year’s best releases to date.

You can also view this article: http://thequietus.com/articles/07066-skullflower-fucked-on-a-pile-of-corpses-review

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