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End Times: Oozing Wound's We Cater To Cowards
JR Moores , January 26th, 2023 08:22

If this does turn out to be their final record, Oozing Wound are going out with a nihilistic bang, says JR Moores

Oozing Wound by Evan Jenkins

This could be the record that kills Oozing Wound.

Thrashing their own furrow, the ferocious, frantic and funny ("ha-ha" as well as "odd") trio have been among the most electrifying metal bands of the last decade. Yet their refusal to actually identify as a metal band may not have helped their "career". This word is placed firmly in inverted commas because few bands bar Mastodon are anything more than a side-hustle these days. Let's blame Spotify's Daniel Ek, with his t-shirt so tight it appears to be forcing his forehead towards the rafters.

A tunnel-visioned act with an ambitious ten-year plan might've signed to a more single-mindedly metal-centric label than the venerably artsy Thrill Jockey, with its jazzy post-rock and thinking-man's cellists. A Relapse. A Roadrunner? Or a Nuclear Blast. Should The Ooze have played the game more readily? Puckered up to the rumps of Metallica rather than deriding the former lightning riders as washed-up purveyors of "the worst shit"? Kept their love of YES and ABBA to themselves? Written more songs about graveyards and ghoulies instead of focusing on Soviet cosmonauts and lesser loved instalments of the Star Trek franchise? Bombarded the mansions of the Mensch family with flowers, Milk Trays and pledges to duet with an operatic frontwoman hegemonized by the metal patriarchy into dressing like she's just clocked off from the bondage dungeon? Put down the bong for a second or two?

Fuck that.

That would've sucked gallons and gallons of ooze.

Recorded a million months ago and delayed due to vinyl backlogs (probably), Oozing Wound's fifth album appears in that limbo time of the year when most people's disposable incomes aren't overly amenable to taking punts on a thrash record influenced by pre-corporate grunge with horn accompaniment on half of its tracks. Exacerbating matters, there will be no touring for the foreseeable as drummer Kyle Reynolds recovers from surgery after tearing his shoulder at work. Guitarist, screecher and ex-doorman at The Empty Bottle, Zack Weil has moved from Chicago to Milwaukee and got himself a grownup job during the daylight hours. As he recently posted on Instagram, "This extended hiatus has us all wondering if there will be an ooze in the future."

If it is the end of the road then that is an enormous shame, particularly because We Cater To Cowards is another triumph as well an Olive Oyl-legged step forward. For starters, the influence of the mighty and massively underrated TAD is heftier than ever. Also with a waft of The Jesus Lizard to its sinister swing and feedback-ridden noise-rockiness, 'Total Existence Failure' provides further evidence that this lot are fully aware there are plenty of rival varieties of music that can often outstrip the heaviness of heavy metal.

'The Good Times (I Don't Miss 'Em)' lumbers savagely at first, as if Nirvana had stuck to the ugly blueprint of Bleach's 'Paper Cuts' and then turned it up to 11, instead of pinpointing 'About A Girl' as the gateway to the fame and fortune later regretted, fatally. If we must keep the thrash references in order, the song gets more hectically Slayer-esque in the midsection. We're talking rhythmically, at least, without those distracting Kerry King signature solos which J Mascis once described, accurately, as having "too many notes… like a horse neighing or bumblebees."

There would be no Nirvana, Jesus Lizard or TAD without the impact of their predecessors Big Black. That band certainly seems to be informing the younger Chicago act's snarling character piece 'Midlife Crisis Actor'. It adopts a similarly single-minded approach as Steve Albini's post-hardcore mission to make "big-ass vicious noise that makes my head spin. I wanna feel it whipping through me like a fucking jolt. We're so dilapidated and crushed by our pathetic existence we need it like a fix..." Lyrically, too, it recalls the bespectacled noise-whipper's morally-repulsed obsession with bitterness, resentment, toxic masculinity and pent-up rage that invariably spills into physical violence.

Throughout, Weil seems to be in a worse mood than ever before. In the past his misanthropic tendencies have been balanced out with — or at least veiled within — fantasies about the different Rambo movies, meditations on science fiction of various flavours, and the ridiculing of conspiracy theorists. The latter, incidentally, is in marked contrast to one of Oozing Wound's formative influences, High On Fire, whose Matt Pike has become increasingly preoccupied by the lizard species that secretly runs our planet according to the ex-sports pundit David Icke. Weil is considerably more sceptical of such notions, being someone of Jewish heritage who's noticed a marked rise in antisemitism since Donald Trump rose to political popularity. Endorsed by Kanye West. In their matching baseball caps.

Setting the morose mood, the first song on We Cater To Cowards explores the relatable and worsening condition of being ground down into the dirt by the anxiety inducement of a dwindling bank balance. On the concise tornado of sound that is 'Hypnic Jerk', Weil strives to escape the TV news because it's always such a relentlessly depressing barrage of real-life horror.

One of the more literary minded new songs is 'Between Cults'. In essence, it's a take on the themes of The Dark Forest by the Chinese sci-fi novelist Liu Cixin. But basically this gives Weil the opportunity to welcome the apocalyptic destruction of all humanity, whether through imbecilic self-destruction or at the hands of extra-terrestrials on a mercy-killing mission. He doesn't care which comes first. Just bring it on. And make it quick. "There's no hope left on Earth," he growls in a deeper pitch than his usual shriek. Sonically, 'Between Cults' feels more straightforwardly punky than the other numbers, although only at first. The discordance and squealing feedback become more and more prominent until we're eventually lifted by the effects and arrangement into surprisingly proggier, space-rock territory. It's quite the g-forced journey into total oblivion.

Reynolds and "space bassist" Kevin Cribbin remain the most powerful rhythm section of any heavy metal power trio that isn't fronted by someone convinced that Atlantis is buried under Antarctica. Listening to the former's beats, it's as if he has about twenty more arms than your average drummer. For his own part, Cribbin must have several extra mutant digits on each of this hands.

The songs with brass (Thymme Jones on trumpet; Bruce Lamont on sax) are a real revelation. Sometimes they're providing additional background texture to the all-consuming racket. On 'Old Sludge', Lamont brings a skronky free-jazz solo to the woodlouse-bitten table. 'Crypto Fash', on the other hand, is an instrumental number on which the collaborators seem determined to re-score the Naked Lunch soundtrack with extra Voivodian oomph.

Hell, no-one ever said heavy metal was a meritocracy. Nobody who'd heard a whole platinum-selling album by Mötley Crüe anyway. Yes, most of us are suffering from bank account anxiety right now. But before an alien species or global self-extinction puts an end to us all, don't let this be the record that kills Oozing Wound.