2006; Sub Pop
It took me a very long time to really appreciate what Wolf Eyes do, possibly because they are often placed under the broad umbrella of noise and power electronics, a genre I typically have little interest in despite my general enjoyment of outre music designed to clear rooms, break windows and alienate people. The works of noise artists like Akita Merzbow, Masonna and the like are frankly just dull and formless to me most of the time. Unending and undynamic sheets of everything-louder-than-everything-else electronic drone, screeches, screams, what have you is just so extreme and unyielding that it ends up having the opposite effect--boredom. Without any concessions to mood, atmosphere, rhythm, improvisation or composition you end up sitting there, staring at your watch and waiting for it to end. The few artists, mostly from industrial's formative years, that have succeeded at making listenable "noise" (hint: it's not) such as Throbbing Gristle, Whitehouse, SPK and early Einsturzende Neubaten have all recognized the value of these elements in their approach.
You can add Ann Arbor freaks Wolf Eyes to that list. All of their albums have combined hardcore screams, industrial clanking, creeping synth noises, blasts of cathartic feedback and even some wild saxophone skronk with careful pacing and skeletal rhythms to produce fascinatingly twisted mindfucking soundscapes fit to adorn avant-garde horror films. Human Animal, one of the few widely distributed CD releases out of a dauntingly huge and obscure discography, captures the team of Nate Young, John Olsen, Mike Connelly and former member turned producer Aaron Dilloway at the height of their necromancing powers.
Opener "A Million Years" is the huge ghostly monster on the cover slowly rising out of the swamp, a distant din of metallic crashes slowly getting louder as it approaches, accompanied by wounded animal squawks on sax and a piercing, inhuman screech that reaches directly down into your soul and tears it out. This track lets you know in no uncertain terms what you're about to get into.
Ready? Good. The end cleanly segues into the short high-frequency loop/drone bath "Lake of Roaches," followed by the eight-minute "Rationed Riot." Eerie high-pitched synths float in and out of a soupy lo-fi mix, barrel-like drums and the sounds of bubbling muck and blowing winds. The first recognizably human voice comes in, reciting some creepy passages of gore and decay obscured by the surrounding soundscape. The hideous wailing sax returns to usher this track to a close.
Then the title track hits, and all hell breaks loose. Heavily processed screams, crashing gongs (played both normally and backwards masked), feedback, and a thundering beat accompanied by baritone wordless chants that sound like they were sampled from an occult ritual give way to the utterly demented skullfuck that is "Rusted Mange," where human voice, synths and saxophone all compete to drown each other out, recorded in the ugliest, most distorted way possible.
The monster's attack ends, and now drifts in the pervasive fear of "Leper War." Basically a continuation of "A Million Years," but even more claustrophobic and dense. "The Driller" is the creme de la creme of brutal industrial noise, the soundtrack accompanying the marching deformed mutant armies of Hell as they emerge from the earth to consume and destroy everything in their path. Four minutes of pure ear rape. The album ends with a snarky, noise-punk cover of No Fucker's "Noise Not Music," which compared to the concentrated doom that came before is almost accessible in its instantly gratifying slap upside the head.
If anyone is to be named a worthy successor to the likes of late '70s and early '80s industrial, Wolf Eyes are in the front running. Not only have they added a degree of structure and accessibility to the avant-garde realms of power electronics, their attempts have also paradoxically managed to increase the intensity and atmosphere tenfold, pushing the bounds of the art. Human Animal (along with their previous album Burned Mind) from the music right down to the brilliant cover art is an organic, cohesive exercise in aural terror rivaled only by the likes of future column fodder Khanate and Today Is The Day.
Um... well... try some Throbbing Gristle. If you somehow manage to survive the experience without running out of the room screaming or shitting your pants than this is probably the next logical step.