MoE y Escalantes, Saint Vitus Dance, Norway, Conrad Sound, CnRd333 CD (2022)
On the same day that MoE released “Skinwalker”, their collaboration with UK band Bruxa Marie, the Norwegian trio also released “Saint Vitus Dance”, itself also a collaboration with Escalantes (Martin and Oscar). As with “Skinwalker”, we can expect a lot of noisy experimental jazz improv / sludge doom rock fusion, though with Martin Escalante on saxophone the recording leans a bit more to the free jazz side. Even so, sludge doom metal fans shouldn’t dismiss this album as there’s plenty here that will appeal to them: the down-tuned bass guitar lines, the crashing cymbals and thumping percussion, and the oppressive atmosphere that follows as a result. A female vocalist adds her own special brand of madness and malevolence to the general commotion which ranges from the gritty and noisy to the skittish, the squally, the screechy and the stentorian.
Call your first track “Auto Da Fé”, you can expect to be subjected to scrutiny rivalling that of the Holy Inquisition itself in judging whether your music is as confrontational and discomforting as its title suggests, and in this case the musicians pile on the chaos and horror, coming from squealing sax, thundering drums and gritty down-tuned bass drones with the weight and pressure of concrete pylons. There’s desperation in the music as it draws near the end, with the sax screaming for dear life and the drums and bass drown out its higher notes. A brief pause and all-out cacophony explodes in “The Greek Fire” with sax, drums and other instruments in a fight for their lives. The really arresting and interesting track though is “Bagpipes from Guanajuato”, featuring a bawling horn-like instrument and two vocalists, one male and the other female, both (but the female in particular) singing or keening at the extremes of their respective ranges while the music increases in harsh density, chaos and volume.
“The Sandman” is a duel between two saxophones (alto and tenor) on the one hand and sludge metal bass and percussion on the other, with the female singer from “Bagpipes …” declaiming lyrics over the squealing and the thunder before it all collapses under distortion. Bringing up the rear is the title track which, like the neurological disorder it’s named after is a jerky piece of two saxophones disputing with each other before being interrupted by solemn sludge doom drones that threaten to split the very ground beneath our feet, all the way to the centre of Earth. The drones dominate the track from then on, with the saxes and soprano singing weaving squiggly melodies around the solid bristly textures.
Like “Skinwalker”, this album is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and is even more confronting if less sonically varied. Much of the experimentation here comes from the soprano singing which surely draws inspiration from singers like Diamanda Galas and others who use extended vocal techniques. This, together with the saxophones and the sludge doom elements make for an album that, as its front cover artwork insinuates, is combative and challenging.