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Throes Bernie Brooks , May 30th, 2019 10:20

The tracks on Aseethe’s new LP, Throes, move slowly, but with purpose and conviction, says Bernie Brooks

Not sure if you are aware, but Iowa City kinda rules. Then again, generally speaking, so do most Midwestern college towns. These comparatively dense buoys of open-minded decency bob in wide-open seas of regressive conservatism, of judgment couched in polite offerings of pie or coffee, maybe iced tea on a hot day. In addition to the steady in/out of young people and scholars that informs and colours the fabric of daily life in these towns, they have: a couple good bars, one or two decent record shops, good burgers, good pizza. There’s probably a river. All have bands, but the great ones have really good bands. Iowa City is a great one. Iowa City has Aseethe.

Aseethe have been kicking around Iowa City for years, releasing a steady stream of doom and drone metal LPs and EPs, and almost as many collaborations. They’re pretty prolific, even by the standards of a genre that includes The Body. Their newest record, Throes, the group’s third LP and second for Thrill Jockey, is a five-song juggernaut, its three long-form tracks nestled alongside two comparatively short numbers. Of the shorter tracks, 'Suffocating Burden' is the only straight-up drone here. It's concise and unsettling. The other, 'No Realms', is savage, laying bare the group's roots in hardcore without sacrificing that distinctive, Earth-y, Midwestern twang that runs through much of their work.

As for the long-form jams, well, what do you know about ground sloths? Up until the Late Pleistocene, ground sloths, most commonly a genus called Megalonyx ("giant claw"), lived throughout North America, including Iowa (where, in the Tarkio Valley, an important palaeontological dig occurred throughout much of the aughts). These were huge, powerful things, weighing in at up to one-thousand kilograms, standing about three meters tall. They were also, almost certainly, very slow. But have you ever seen a sloth move? They move at a glacial pace, but they don't lumber. While not exactly graceful, their movements are purposeful, full of conviction. There's a momentum there. And so it is with Aseethe. 'Throes', 'To Victory', and 'Our Worth Is The New Measure' are more like suites than anything else, developing slowly, but never losing their intensity as they grind on from one part to the next.

Once, while travelling through Iowa, my partner and I drove parallel to an electrical storm for maybe an hour or so. It was off in the middle distance, and from our vantage point, it seemed deeply uncanny. The moon was bright in the sky, so we could see the full shape of the cloud formation as it rolled over the landscape, crackling with electricity, lighting the plains. Maybe the orb of dark energy that blackens the sky of Throes’ cover has me predisposed to make the connection, but there are more than a few moments here that call to mind this indelible memory of the plains: extended drone passages that seem to quiver with unstable energy; sudden, crushing structural shifts like thunder; vocal outbursts that crack through the band's carefully cultivated gloom like lightning. Throughout the record, Aseethe make expert use of their two vocalists to set listeners back on their heels, shifting from one's gravel-throated bellow to the other's punk-inflected shriek, as they rail against the innumerable existential threats and injustices that have come to define the era in which we live.

The last time my wife and I were in Iowa City, we stayed in an Iowa-themed hotel, in a room with Field Of Dreams-inspired decor. It was a big place, and I couldn't help but wonder what the other rooms were like. Which of Iowa's stories and luminaries were being celebrated? I'm not sure if it would be conducive to the best night's sleep, but the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced there should be an Aseethe room somewhere in the place, off in a dark corner, maybe decorated in shades of grey or sepia. A place set aside for discerning weirdos looking to immerse themselves in a slightly different college-town experience - in a less mainstream, but no less valuable, cultural export. But then again, I suppose that's what this record is for.