Monday, October 12, 2009

Album: Lightning Bolt - Earthly Delights

Earthly Delights (Lightning Bolt)
Album: Earthly Delights
Load, 2009
Rating: ******** (8/10)

Post-hardcore duo Lightning Bolt debuted ten years ago, and they seem to get better with each release. The last we heard from the band, recording-wise, was their 2005 masterpiece Hypermagic Mountain. It's been a long four years, but it's worth the wait. Their new LP Earthly Delights, out tomorrow, may be their album best yet.

Lightning Bolt is "post-hardcore" in that it rests with a group of bands that borrowed the frantic speed and intensity of hardcore punk but melded it with metal-influenced technical skill and a heavy, dark sensibility akin to post punk and industrial. Lightning Bolt, featuring two boldly uncompromising and jaw-droppingly skilled musicians, on drums and bass respectively, fits this mold, using relentless distortion and speed, but with music far too complex to be classified with punk proper.

On Earthly Delights, Brian Chippendale and Brian Gibson amp up everything that makes their band outstanding - it's faster, louder, heavier and meaner than anything they've done yet (granted, Hypermagic Mountain came close). For a casual indie rock fan, Lightning Bolt might not be a favorite - it's not an easy album by any means, and this latest record is especially ill-suited for the casual listener. The first two tracks are lost in their own vortex of distortion and noise, and though the more subdued, ominous opening notes of Colossus let us come up for air, we're plunged almost immediately back into the cacophony.

One of the only real complaints to make about Lightning Bolt is that they don't provide a lot of variety, and here too, the sonic landscape is mostly limited to the band's usual distorted shredding and speed drumming. It's still valid because no one else is doing this, not with this intensity, volume and speed - but you won't find a lot of big surprises.

One of the few moments that does stand out is "Funny Farm," the sixth track. Here, Gibson breaks into a tongue-in-cheek hoedown, his bass stepping as nimbly as any fiddle. Despite the inherent joke, though, the melody is stunningly charming, and it fits comfortably between the skull-splitting noise of the rest of the track and album. This is followed by the arty ambiance of "Rain on the Lake I'm Swimming In," the record's one real break from its own fury. Here, the band shows excellent restraint in limiting themselves to two minutes before kicking back in with their slightly more musical sound.

"The Sublime Freak" also provides a point of contrast, allowing more subtle sounds to permeate the song. The record closer, the twelve-minute "Transmissionary," is classic Lightning Bolt, barreling through the mammoth fuzz and feedback with speed freakouts and sludge-metal dirges.

As a whole, the album does what Lightning Bolt have always tried to do - consumes itself in its own noisy flames. At times, it's difficult to hear what's actually going on, not because anything is mixed low but because the magnitude of the sound obliterates everything and everyone in its way. Listen to a few tracks before you buy it - many people would consider it unlistenable, and certainly, it is not an album for the faint of heart. But if you're into having your eardrums annihilated by the sonic, artistic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb, this is the album for you.


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