Published on July 26th, 2017 | by Luke Frizon



Let me preface this by saying that GRAY MATTER showcases two of the most dynamic, compelling bands I’ve seen in years. I’ve been looking forward to listening to this record for a long time.

Having been lucky enough to see them both smash their way through tiny, sweaty venues in Japan, I can attest to the skill of their craft. NoLA are bursting with a malicious wall of noise delivered with a sneer, and a madness of flailing limbs, hammer-swinging guitars and members viciously throwing themselves across the venue leaving you scrambling for safety. REDSHEER crackle with an electric hostility that sets you firmly in the back seat, hostage to the show in front of you.

NoLA performing in Tokyo in 2016.

While NoLA’s members are young, the band has been around for many years, starting out as a three-piece. With each new member added to the band, they’ve woven another layer of darkness over their frame. Starting with a chaotic southern rock motif, each album has departed further and further into the territory occupied by bleakness, hatred, and despair.

The two tracks on GRAY MATTER, Filth Face and Ashes, showcase the terror they evoke with their most recent addition, bassist Yuto.

“NoLA is rock and roll frothing at the mouth, eyeballs flaring out of their sockets, smoke and flames spewing out of every pore.”

Filth Face sounds like it fell into a tar pit in 1992 and has only just crawled its shambling way out. A thick layer of grime oozes over the whole track while it drags its bitter form across three minutes of growling Bolt Thrower-esque guitars, cruelly edged lo-fi double kicks, and the gruesome, squalling howls of vocalist Takeru. Thrown into a grim d-beat march, Filth Face resolves itself by surrendering to a sludge-choked down tempo drone that grows in pace and aggression before returning to that nasty tremolo pace we were greeted with.

The overall effect is staggering and exhausting in the best possible way. You’ll want to take a moment to decompress before hitting “replay”, but you’ll be rewarded with a chance to feel deeper into the song than before, and really get taken for a ride. A ride to a bad place, sure, but what a trip.

Ashes showcases the faster, more violent side of the band, as well as echoing exactly as the band name suggests—New Orleans, late 1980s, and the sludge underground fostered there.

This is malformed blues riffs punching out a thuggish groove replete with snarling belligerence from every member of the band all at once. This is catchy, like someone grabbing you by the neck as they drive by. You’re immediately confronted by an arresting riff dripping with that Southern Blues rhythm before they take it, eviscerate it, bare the swamp-drowned skeleton, and then smash it apart—ending in a massive (it’s huge) d-beat section which fractures and explodes into that ever-present, never-welcoming frenetic chaos that forms the backbone of this five-piece.

NoLA is rock and roll frothing at the mouth, eyeballs flaring out of their sockets, smoke and flames spewing out of every pore. And with just over six minutes, it’s kicked you firmly in the teeth and stormed its way out the back door leaving that horrid grime in its wake.

REDSHEER performing in Tokyo, 2016.

REDSHEER are deeply entrenched in the hardcore and extreme music scene, a three-piece known for blistering live shows and releases that instill a sense of loneliness. There’s something resolute about all their past releases, however. They lend the listener catharsis through dark phases. Strength through sorrow. These sentiments are echoed in bassist Ryuji’s lyrics, which speak of an attitude suspended between pragmatism and pessimism, empathy and misanthropy. A dichotomy many of us face off with every day.

“Not only are you alone, now you’re lost in a dark, hungry place. And the light isn’t coming back.”

Fall Into Oblivion is the song REDSHEER contributes this little release, and it exemplifies this dissonance perfectly. It’s an incredibly menacing song, a dirge with dark, rotting claws that will drag you into its center, where you’re welcomed by a three-man chorus of strangled howls of negativity and raw emotion across two languages.

While the English is familiar, any sense of comfort stops frozen in its tracks at that point. Because Fall is a nightmare. It’s cold, it’s ruinous, it’s the sound of misery welling up within until everything without falls apart. And then, a sudden shift into somewhere monstrous.

Ghostly guitars whisper eerily and pull you further in with their dark gravity, where you’re crushed by an avalanche of a down-tempo movement that drops you straight into isolation. Not only are you alone, now you’re lost in a dark, hungry place. And the light isn’t coming back. This is hammered down by a final blow of chugging, staccato rage before you sink for the last time and plumb the unnerving depths of REDSHEER’s pitch-black dimension.

This is striking in how deftly all these dynamics are handled with such a minimal lineup. Each note and element is in exactly the right place for this track to evolve in its horror.

All in all, I reckon this split is brilliant. It conveys so much in such a short period of time. The excellent songwriting aside, the true magic that comes from pairing these two bands on the same record is the juxtaposition of the extrinsic and the intrinsic. Saddled with gloom and rage, each song combines to paint a vile and stark landscape that urges you to consider that there are dark corners of the world, much like the murkier spectrum of your thoughts and memories; and the importance of illuminating these in all their ghastly majesty, so they don’t all creep up and swallow you whole.

Everyone will draw their own story from GRAY MATTER, and I urge you to check it out and see for yourself.

FFO: The Banner, Cursed, Year Of No Light, His Hero Is Gone, COFFINS, Bolt Thrower, Eyehategod.

GRAY MATTER is out now as a 7-inch on Break The Records. Visit NoLA’s Bandcamp page here, and REDSHEER’s website here, for other releases.

— Featured image of REDSHEER by Hôzvki Photography.

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