When dealing with an album like Clandestine Abuse—the second full-length from Milwaukee sludge-metal outfit Northless—it’s best to get a few obvious adjectives out of the way: pummelling, bruising, crushing, grueling, devastating. This is an album so overblown, so dense, and so thick with noise that it’s a wonder it can be sussed out by human ears. Guitars violently riff, vocals growl forth from the din, and drums explode and crumble away into static. Claiming this album could peel the paint off walls does it a great disservice—this shit could peel the primer.
From the get-go, singer-guitarist Erik Stenglein and company hit hard and never let up. “Flesh & Blood” practically belches to life, while “Not Made For Existence” and “Empty Home” continue with 2-ton, turgidly-paced slabs of doom. Though the group has seen a constantly revolving lineup since forming in 2007, its current four-piece iteration seems to have coalesced into a particularly fearsome powerhouse, as evidenced by the overwhelming, distorted assault of tracks like “Sundowner” and “Damnation.”
Still, much of the album’s success is owed to Howl Street Recordings’ Shane Hochstetler, who pulls off the impressive trick of somehow slathering the band’s bowel-shaking sound to tape. Even through the tinniest laptop speakers or ear buds, the record pushes the sonic envelope without ever becoming unlistenable. But make no mistake: Clandestine Abuse is an album that demands—and revels in—excessive volume.
Only the relatively tame verses of the final, nearly 10-minute track, “The Storm,” break the constant onslaught of noise. Otherwise, the album’s production, levels, and post-apocalyptic ethos remain constant throughout, as though it were recorded in a single, jaw-dropping take. Still, it’s never a tiring slog, and certainly never anything less than riveting. Clandestine Abuse is a singular piece of work that stands above many of its sludgy peers, and an album that’s sure to define the Milwaukee hardcore/metal scene in 2011.
Northless celebrates the release of Clandestine Abuse tonight at the Borg Ward Collective.