It seems that the most frequent conversational leitmotif of the past decade, when extreme metal fans congregate, is “Where do we go next?” Since the advent of sludge, black and doom metal in the ’90s, most steps forward in the genre have been subtle ones, mere inches where before we witnessed leaps.
The shadow of Black Sabbath still casts its deathly pall, even if it has been enhanced and pushed further by the likes of Mayhem, SUNN O))) and Eyehategod (among many others), so room to maneuver in interesting ways has become increasingly restricted. Check out the Encyclopaedia Metallum, and the sheer number of bands to have emerged since 2003, nearly all playing a variant on existing formulas, is simply staggering. Every month I’m sent promo copies of handfuls of metal albums that all sound pretty much the same. It seems that originality in metal, a genre I’ve cherished since I was about 15, is becoming increasingly rare.
Maybe Chicago’s Indian has this problem nailed. On its fifth album, From All Purity, the quartet (quintet if you count producer Sean Patton on “noise”) simply consolidates the best aspects of doom and sludge and then does a bit of exciting tweaking, instead of vainly trying something revolutionary or ground-breaking or merely reiterating previous material. From All Purity will never have the impact of Earth’s second album, Khanate’s self-titled debut, Take As Needed For Pain by Eyehategod or Sleep’s drone doom bible Dopesmoker, but it contains all the important ingredients that made those records so essential. Indian adds a bit of its own character, and even if it doesn’t bound the band forward, then at least it sets it apart from the crowd. Patient evolution as opposed to misguided genre crossover (I’m looking at you, Deafhaven) or, worse, unimaginative cliché.
Before all that, though, Indian makes sure it gets the basics right, which it does with supreme confidence. With the exception of the bizarre “Clarify,” these tracks are all about fuzz-drenched riffs, drums that crash like demonic machinery and a singer who doesn’t so much scream as tear disjointed words from his throat as if trying out a new but unsuccessful form of ritual suicide.
Dylan O’Toole is so outrageously hysterical, I’m almost close to comparing to some of the modern metal-vocal greats such as Alan Dubin or Attila Csihar. Tracks like opener “Rape” and “The Impetus Bleeds” may crumble under the combined force of cranked up guitars and implacable rhythm, but that doesn’t prevent O’Toole from imposing his presence. With every harsh, unhinged shriek, he paints a picture of a man at his wit’s end.
You only need to listen to his voice to know that a track title like “Rape” is no mere slice of gratuitous provocation, as is the case with many extreme metal bands. Indian follows the paths of Eyehategod and Acid Bath in plunging headlong into the dark abyss of human nature, returning to scream its misanthropic fury at the world’s face. It’s a shame the production doesn’t push the vocals further up the mix, as hearing O’Toole with more clarity must be beyond unsettling.
So far, so very typical of extreme metal, even if Indian stretches out mightily far. Listen closely, however, and extra textures begin to reveal themselves under the familiar riffage and drum pounding. Patton’s hyper-saturated electronics swim like a bleary, broiling sea underneath the main melodies (if you can call them that), bubbling up through the interstices to dump extra layers of gristle over the other instruments, like a blind painter slapping brown acrylic on an already-finished painting.
The rest of Indian responds unexpectedly, dropping back to open up spaces between claustrophobic maulings. These touches are fleeting, and easily overlooked, but they do add flesh and gunk to the album’s five overtly metal tracks.
Which leaves “Clarify,” the most daring track I’ve heard by a full-on metal band I’ve heard in quite some time. Ditching drums, bass, and, as far as I can tell, guitars (bar the odd bit of feedback), the band unleashes a mean-faced four-minute slab of fractured noise, over which O’Toole’s vocals descend into gargled, incoherent squeals. Even with the slow-burning slab of doom that is closer “Disambiguation” coming straight afterward to reset the balance, it feels like “Clarify” is a mission statement of sorts from Indian, a way to reach into new realms of noise.
Will they dare plunge even further next time out? Here’s hoping. Maybe metal has yet some wild new territory to explore.