Guest Spot: Jenks Miller discusses five “heavier than metal” albums

Horseback: The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden PlanetHorsebackThe Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden Planet (Relapse, 5/10/11)

Horseback: “The Golden Horn”

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As a member of both psych-metal band Horseback and folk-rock outfit Mount Moriah, North Carolina-based guitarist Jenks Miller is versatile, to say the least. In our recent review of Horseback’s new album, a combination of two past albums entitled The Gorgon Tongue, Miller’s Jekyll-and-Hyde tendency is lauded — one minute brooding and drone, another supremely melodic, almost poppy. In this Guest Spot, Miller explores his history with the darker, more chaotic side of music, laying bare the essential beauty of the extreme.

Heavier than Metal
by Jenks Miller of Horseback and Mount Moriah

As a young metal-head, I had a voracious appetite for heavy sounds. I wanted sounds that were too raw for comfortable listening, sounds that challenged me, sounds that were obscene. I wanted to find an extreme point on the musical landscape.  My search led me from speed metal to doom, to black and death metal, and back again. I wound up with a few non-metal (that is, “avant-garde”) records along the way, but many of these were so obtuse that they seemed almost impossible to listen to. Where were the riffs?! I remember buying SwansCop and being so turned off by that record’s grinding repetition that I couldn’t make it through an entire track.

But there was something about that record, and the other more bizarre records that had found their way into my collection: something made me hold on to them, made me return to them again and again until my own life got ugly enough for those records to resonate with me.

At that point, I realized what the “heaviness” I had been seeking really was. It wasn’t extremity for the sake of extremity, after all; it wasn’t even the sort of earth-moving guitar sound that one finds on most metal records. Rather, it was the sound of my own existential dread reflected back across the universe. It was the perverse acknowledgment that my attitude as a youth was shared by others, the multitude of artists obscured in the far corners of popular culture, lost in flecks of radio static.

With time, these records began to feel brutally honest and vulnerable, then beautiful. I learned their language, from the groan of saturated, bass-frequency sludge to the shriek of barely controlled microphone feedback. Now they’re not so difficult to listen to. The records listed below are just a small sample of music from the far reaches, music that’s even heavier than metal.

Peter Brötzmann Octet: Machine Gun1. Peter Brötzmann Octet: Machine Gun (BRÖ, 1968)

Originally released on Brötzmann’s own imprint, Machine Gun has since been revisited and reissued by a number of labels over the years. The opening salvo, a furious saxophone blast that mimics the sounds produced by the titular killing machine, eventually gives way to crashing percussion and wildly improvised free jazz. There is a violent, frenzied quality to this recording that makes it both captivating and unpredictable.

Swans: Public Castration is a Good Idea2. SwansPublic Castration Is a Good Idea (Burn One, 1986)

Recorded during a UK tour in 1986, Public Castration is the ultimate documentation of the Swans’ live experience. Though Michael Gira went on to pursue a more melodic approach to songwriting in both Swans and Angels of Light, the music here is primal, bludgeoning, and relentless. Gira bellows slogan-like outbursts across a sea of noise, like a wounded animal lashing out against his encroaching adversaries. Minimal, droning instrumentation and a bass-heavy, blown-out, and claustrophobic recording anticipated welcome developments in the metal genre over the past decade.

Fushitsusha: Pathétique/Hisou3. FushitsushaPathétique/Hisou (PSF, 1994)

Keiji Haino’s noise-rock power trio produced some of the most otherworldly music in the rock canon. Pathétique is particularly powerful, coming over like a misremembered blues jam performed on medieval weaponry. It’s the sound of reinvention.



Prurient: Black Vase4. PrurientBlack Vase (Load, 2005)

Black Vase owes a great deal to power-electronics pioneers Whitehouse, but its confrontational opening track, a fifteen-minute laser beam of concentrated microphone feedback, ventures further into depravity than even the notorious British bruisers. A self-destructive move like this might be laughable if it didn’t also dare the listener to endure its excesses. Essential audio torture, guaranteed to make you a worse human being.


Scott Walker: The Drift

5. Scott WalkerThe Drift (4AD, 2006)

Scott Walker’s transformation from a teen heart-throb to a reclusive mad genius later in life is truly remarkable (this transformation was chronicled in the 2006 documentary 30th Century Man). The Drift, anticipated only by his own Climate of Hunter and Tilt records years before, finds Walker disappearing into a fractured sonic landscape, his deep, crooning voice a pallid ghost within a flesh-eating machine. In the track “Clara,” percussionist Alasdair Malloy is credited with “meat punching.”  Malloy literally punches a slab of meat in that track, producing wet, slapping sounds that are unnerving even if one is ignorant of their origins. This is not music for the squeamish.

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