Review – Agoraphobic Nosebleed: Arc

By -
  • Bio: "Agoraphobic Nosebleed are one of the most well-known drum-machine grindcore bands, and have influenced many drum-machine grindcore bands." - Bandcamp
  • Label: Relapse Records
  • Release Date: January 22nd, 2016
  • Genre: Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal
  • Website: Visit Website
  • Rating (out of 10):

When it comes to the world of grindcore lately, there seems to be a vast amount of experimentation in the air, most notably journeying into the realm of doom, sludge, or drone territory. The most notable example of this being the recent Pig Destroyer benefit EP Mass & Volume, which was full of drone and doom metal input that was recorded in the spare time from a full-length’s studio session. Now, Agoraphobic Nosebleed is taking a stab at breaking out of the norm with their latest three-song effort, Arc. Unlike previous recordings that pummel the listener with largely short explosions of powerviolence, this one takes the hazy, hydro-grind elements to a sludge/stoner metal level, a huge departure from their 1998 debut Honky Reduction or 2003’s one hundred and twenty-seven track Altered States of America (if you grab the deluxe version, that is). But does this new approach work well for the band, or does it come off as nothing more than the grindcore world’s version of the deathcore epidemic of blindly following the leader?

Unlike previous efforts where the longest track may have clocked in at a whopping fourteen seconds, Arc is devised to take its time and flesh out each of the three songs, finding the shortest to be about seven minutes in length. That performance, “Not a Daughter”, shows a heavy southern twist to the mid-paced, crash filled buzzing along the lines of Eyehategod, Black Label Society, and even Pantera in the various jumps in tempo this track throws in your way across this extensive amount of time. It all weaves a catchy performance that is still fairly light, contrasting against Katherine Katz’s abrasive screaming, but still ends up infectious enough to get your head bobbing along to the rhythm. Sadly, by four-and-a-half minutes in, things grind to a halt, as if channeling a bit of Type O Negative when the performance easily, and logically, should have ended then and there. Instead, we’re left with what sounds like filler, suspending the listener floating in the water of the swampy marshlands that rush into your lungs and suffocate you with its completely unneccessary existence, leaving you holding back the urge to hit the skip forward button to put the closing out of its misery.

“Deathbed”” is where the band’s darker side lives on the effort, laying down foreboding melodies that just trudge along against its will. The rich buzz still plays up that stoner vibe, but with more of a swedish death metal presence backed by random deep gutturals that appear randomly. This and the overall crisp recording make the performance sound incredibly vibrant, standing as more of an ironic addition to an otherwise dismal performance that dredges a southern environment and a thick haze accompanied by an uncomfortable heat for the first five minutes. After that point in the song, the ominous doom metal sensation is replaced with an upbeat groove akin to Clutch. While infectious, it doesn’t really suit what just took place at all, as if listening to My Dying Bride and suddenly switching to early Aerosmith half-way through – not exactly generic for its time, but it’s far from impressive or worth the ride by that point.

Agoraphobic Nosebleed

Finally there’s “Gnaw”, which basically picks up some of the slack that “Deathbed” left listeners with. The slow-paced, trance inducing riffs are hard to not get wrapped up in, especially with the focus being placed on the fills of the drum kit prior to the audio sample about schizophrenia creating more of a ritualistic environment. These subtle hints in the performance really help move the song forward in it’s far more primal progression, playing up the loss of sanity the aforementioned sound bite eludes to quite well as you approach the half-way point that acts as a mental breakdown. Thankfully, the rest of the cut falls in line with this idea, ushering in more tribal-like grooves that demand your obedience, much like the effects of the drugs as they alter or ward off the previously mentioned mental condition or others like it, all for the sake of subservience in society.

To sit here and say that Arc is something that needs time to grow on you is a mixed response, really. While you can develop an appreciation for what the band is doing and how well paced the performances can end up being most of the time the more you listen to it, you can also find yourself picking out where a song should have ended or how a jump could have been handled a lot better. Agoraphobic Nosebleed‘s attempt to change-up the formula is a noble one, and far from bad. In fact, the biggest fault Arc has lies in the track lengths and how they often are met with ill-fitting material or filler to go beyond a normal four or five-minute length, a restriction that’s perfectly fine as long as the end result still kicks ass like it would have here in the first two songs. With the exception of “Gnaw”, Arc poses an interesting change in dynamics, but also shows there’s plenty of growth to be achieved to really make this change stand out so late in the game.