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Lair of the White Worm
EP 1 Nick Roseblade , October 13th, 2021 08:54

Grinding guitars, slabs of noise, and samples of movie dialogue characterise the latest project by John Cooke, of Napalm Death, Malevolent Creation, Corrupt Moral Altar, and Venomous Concept

Listening to EP 1 reminds me of being on a cross-channel ferry in bad weather. The ferry lurches from left to right violently. The sea splashes the windows. Around you passengers look queasy and leave the room sharpish. Your senses are being bombarded, and all you can do is sit still. Hold on to the arm of the chair and try and ride it out. After a while the sea tones it down a bit (or you get used to the unending onslaught), you let go of the arm and start to enjoy the experience. The same can be said of EP 1.

As a member of Napalm Death, Malevolent Creation, Corrupt Moral Altar, and Venomous Concept, John Cooke has been at the forefront of brutalising metal since 2006. His new project Lair of the White Worm is everything you might expect from Cooke – and more. Less of a solo project and more of a collaboration with his Corrupt Moral Alter bandmates Tom Dring and Chris Reese, EP 1 crafts noise and industrial metal into elegantly bleak soundscapes.

The extended player was recorded during the pandemic, when Cooke was at home after live music was effectively shut down. Looking back, it was a time where rules of interaction felt like they were changing daily. The future looked like a very different place, and no one quite knew how they’d fit in it. Musically, Cooke reinterprets this by contorting his guitar and allowing Dring to distort and transform it as he sees fit. The results are joyfully despondent. But EP 1 is also filled with moments of hope. A third of the way through ‘Water’ there is a vocal that is drenched in yearning and aspiration – then SLAM, almost impenetrable slabs of noise descend, sealing you off from that reverie of what might be.

EP 1 isn’t all doom and gloom. There are moments of delight throughout. ‘Isolation’ features the sample “What rat bastard psychotic would play that song, right now, at this moment?” This brings a smile. The sample is from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the song in question that Raoul Duke heard was the sickly pop song ‘Tammy’ by Debbie Reynolds, but here it’s guttural grindcore, industrial metal. Its good to see that Cooke hasn’t lost his sense of humour. On ‘Misery Box’ there is another Fear and Loathing sample. The sample “Too weird to live. Too rare to die” is followed by Cooke’s line “Everything falls apart”. Despite being created decades apart, these lines combined make sense. Despite how beautiful something is, in the end “Everything falls apart”.

Overall EP 1 is an unrelenting, visceral, experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Lair of the White Worm takes their name from a Ken Russell film made in 1988. One sequence features an actress dressed in her underwear being sacrificed to a 200-foot-long plastic, phallic, worm. If you keep this in mind EP 1 becomes one of the most enjoyable releases of Cooke’s career to date.