Pineal Ventana

Axes to Ice

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The band is down to five people but without losing any of their detailed, often overwhelming sound. Martin Bisi once again handled just about all of the production (a noteworthy exception being the 13-minute album centerpiece "One Held the Key -- One Held the Sleep"). Lyrically, it's no surprise that the group ended up forming a connection with like-minded souls like Neurosis; lines like "God/doctor distinction crumbles/Divine though falls into defilement" aren't exactly easy listening. Lead vocalists Clara Clamp and Mitchell F., sometimes with the force of command and sometimes as a persistent mantra, pull off a singing/screaming duo act on almost every track that nobody in rock outside of Prolapse was doing at the time. Hearing them wind up the tension as tightly as possible on songs like "Control?," in particular, is jaw-dropping. More than once guitarists Kim Chee and Jason LaFarge deliver some pretty great heavy metal-epic riffs -- something else Neurosis would happily enjoy, or at least Voivod -- but the continuing sense of reinterpreting no wave's willful breakdown of what it meant to be a rock act happily stays paramount. The chaotic, mid-song breakdown of "Breach Denial" into percussive and piano chaos before launching back into the obsessive full riffing is particularly powerful, while the fragmentary clatter of the brief "Hark" and the collage of random samples punctuating "S'Vreem" also stand out. It's "One Held the Key -- One Held the Sleep" which turns out to be the most remarkable song of them all, and not because of its length. Aiming for a stripped-back, restrained performance here, with muffled drums and crackling static mixing with sax and violin parts, the only vocals come from Clamp toward the end. Her singing is reminiscent of '30s and '40s big band work, an intriguing contrast with the music.

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