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The Lowest Form
Negative Ecstasy Tom Howells , July 24th, 2014 06:56

"I want to bash my brains out, bleed all over your drugs and watch you smoke 'em up as I drift off to the inevitable," states a critic called Martin Ken, in what appears to be the singular piece of critical press floating around the internet for The Lowest Form's Negative Ecstasy. It's a succinctly encompassing analysis, given the chemically ransacked and bilious miserabilism herein. The band have been kicking around the London scene for a few years now, perhaps best known as a relative diversion to bassist Luke Younger's projects Helm and Birds Of Delay, with notions of a "mysterious guy"- style inconspicuousness prevalent, seemingly down to bone idleness rather than intent. They have basically no web presence, and liner notes inform that the album was recorded over a full two years.

The set picks up pretty much exactly where 2011's self-titled 7" left off. Released via Jensen Ward and Jon Kortland's Iron Lung Records—occasional home to other funtime purveyors such as S.H.I.T., Gag, Hatred Surge, and the duo's eponymous powerviolence combo—Negative Ecstasy can be placed comfortably within a lineage of post-Void bands that includes Hoax, Lotus Fuckers and Sex Vid (give or take the occasional nod to Man Is The Bastard and melodic inflections reminiscent of Bucket Full Of Teeth) as well as direct righteous-as-fuck contemporaries like Mob Rules, Perspex Flesh and No. Mighty fine it is too, a terse 20-ish minutes of grimy, noise-leaning punk expulsions, both self-aware (check the monochromatic, Textura-laden cyan cover) and totally fucking furious at the same time; the opening run of 'Dropping Bad Boys', 'Coming Down Ruff' and 'Some Horrible Bug' being about the strongest I've heard from anyone thus far this year.

It's nothing new exactly — what genre is more of a contentedly self-referential circle jerk than hardcore?—but there's conspicuous nuance in the onslaught which makes the record feel like a galvanized apex of a familiar trend. It sounds amazing in any case: the musicianship is objectively fine—unflashy, functional and brutally unrelenting — but it's lifted by a sterling mastering job by Noise Room Tokyo that blows everything in to the red and places Younger's bass as the key propulsive element, thwacking away mechanically as tracks descend into a fug of miasmic noise, feedback seeping through every second of dead air and front man Chris Bress barking incomprehensibly somewhere down in the mid levels.

Hardcore punk, in its myriad and semi-varied forms, is a vein of socio-cultural sonic expression perfectly realised as a conduit for moaning. What about exactly has always been down to personal taste, but in Bress, The Lowest Form have a vocalist who is almost unerringly miserable. Vocally, he affects a garbled grunt almost incomprehensible throughout, delivering lyrics that flit between hysterical existential crises and base, workaday nihilism.

Take 'Some Horrible Bug' for instance: surely one of the most nuanced and affective paeans to the quiet terrors of flu ever committed to wax. The track utilises the kind of imagery many bands would use for grindingly visceral effect — "I'm shivering / I've shit myself / My body's given in / Confined to my bed / […] I'm ready for death consumed by a horrible bug" — Bress instead creating a hilariously delirious micro-narrative worthy of the subject matter. Things don't improve much, whether venting on the abject frustration of ropey MDMA in 'Comin' Down Ruff' ("Feeling like an idiot / This is fucking shit / I can't feel a thing / I've done a bad bomb"), of which 'Miracle's euphoric jabbering acts as an inebriated thematic opposite.

There's also the momentary glimmers of maniacal powertrippin' in 'Master Slayer' ("I am the master slayer / Give in to me / […] You'll never leave I  am the master"); or the relentlessly dour self-reflection of  'Exhaustion' ("I wanna throw myself out a window") and 'Wrong Decision' ("When I sit back and look at my life / I know it amounts to nothing"). Overwrought it may be (and not inconsiderably funny), but there's a genuine air of desperation running throughout, especially in Bress' occasional inbetween-line-utterances of "Oh fuuuuuck", which come off a little like a lowest-ebb flipside to the self-satisfied harrumphing that Thomas Mars peppers Phoenix's records with: not a comparison I was expecting to make with a punk record in 2014, especially one this good.

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