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Ritual Mess
Vile Art Tom Howells , October 24th, 2014 10:18

Few of the esoteric transfigurations of underground rock music are as worthy of revisiting as that which developed in San Diego around Gravity Records. The taste-making label's exemplary run of releases though the 90s saw groups such as Angel Hair, Clikitat Ikatowi, Heroin and Antioch Arrow (not to mention Three One G peers like Swing Kids) develop a certain strain of hardcore punk known, for better or worse, as "screamo", reconfiguring the style as swirling, discordant exercises in barely controlled chaos, jazz and emo inflections permeating the arty bluster. It was (and indeed still is) rousing stuff, throwing up myriad classic records which have resolutely failed to date.

Removed by a matter or five-or-so years and 3000 miles, Amherst's Orchid would become the seminal progenitors of a parallel strain of screamo—tagged by some, gratingly, as "emoviolence"—merging it with the intensity of powerviolence and grindcore, and resulting in a more precise, emotionally draining form of the genre, made idiosyncratic by Will Killingsworth's distinctive guitar work and Jayson Green's precocious lyrics and abrasive, exhausted vocals.

In factoring Killingsworth, Green and bassist Geoff Garlock amongst its personnel, Ritual Mess is not an Orchid reunion per se, but it might as well be. Whilst Vile Art (self consciously) owes more to the Gravity school of churning post-hardcore than that group's cathartic output, there's more than enough here of the latter to the pique the interest of anyone still clinging to the late 90s glory days of Ebullition and Witching Hour. Recorded at Killingsworth's Dead Air Studios, the record is a whip-smart amalgam of these sources, flitting seamlessly between octave-chord driven tumult and lurching groove. Incrementally paring down on the venting of earlier EP cuts like 'Pig Island', the record's terse 23 minutes are nevertheless a satisfyingly exhausting listen.

'Actualize The Taste' begins with a few clangs of spring reverb and a wash of feedback before tipping in to the squall, a mess of hyper-melodic abrasion and a mess of rung low notes and piercing chords which is both as close to Orchid as the record runs. It sits as a thrilling induction in to the following ten tracks, from the climactic mid-speed grind of 'Formal Apology' through the Drive Like Jehu-esque groove of '#7', the clattering sturm und drang of 'Emma', and 'Interior's measured blast and release. It's all heightened particularly by Andy Skelly's nuanced, complex drumming (also prevalent in Ampere, the lauded group he plays in with Killingsworth).

Green's lyrics generally avoids the overwrought and facetious intellectualism Orchid were briefly known for (a relief, given the 17 year gap in recordings). Instead they maintain a platitudinous vageuness, fluctuating between snotty brush offs, self-consciously low-rent romanticism, and more abstracted and gloomy sentiments, all laced with a shrugging resignation and quietly introverted despair. (Green, it might be added, is a comedian when not fronting punk bands, a fact I'm guessing is not mutually exclusive to his work here). There's plenty of laconic charm running throughout —'Formal Apology's "Florescent bulbs / Waiting room / Phone calls / Doom doom doom", and '#7''s "I'm post-post everything / I'm post it all / I didn't quit school / You know the school quit me", for instance—while the dour abandon of Emma's "I'll go with you / Let's do all the drugs / We're already fucking / So what's the point / It's the point / We're the point" is oddly sweet given the wording.

'The Last Shout' and 'Wasting' are perhaps Vile Art's pivotal moments: the former, a defacto album centrepiece given its relatively sprawling four minute run time, drags out an eerie, discordant intro for half of its duration before stumbling back in to the expeditious chaos, Killingsworth punctuating his riffs with harmonic breaks. 'Wasting' on the other hand, is unrelenting from the off, terse blasts of vertiginous octave chords segueing into a muted build replete with Green mumbling ritualistically in the lower levels, before hitting the record's cathartic apex, all queasily held strings and more harmonic pinches cutting through the miasmic storm. The closing passages of fading, degraded ambience are a gorgeous juxtaposition, a disjointedly fleeting bookend recalling the measured dynamics of Kilingsworth's finest project, the prog-grind group Bucket Full Of Teeth.

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