Tonight seems to have a thematic underpinning. All three bands write songs with the sole purpose of strangling and burying them. For every melody I’m able to salvage, three more are drowned beneath distorted feedback, or reckless echo, or bass frequencies cranked to indulgently convulsive levels. In the case of Weeping, the components of compositional structure (drums, guitar) are stranded in the omnidirectional spew of noise synth and amplified wood saw. The music accelerates into blastbeats and then lumbers in these faltering, botched hydraulic stop-starts of stab and dissonance, while dry-heaved screams of panic circulate the mess. There are allusions to early Swans at some points and full-on grindcore immersion at others. Yet this kernel of intention – the message, the deliberate act – is forever fighting to be felt above its very opposite number: a cold, anti-cathartic scree of drones and curdling metal chassis, closing inward upon the human heart and squeezing it to death. Songs end. Songs begin. Palm-mutes snatch at the noise, like trying to stuff wet mud into a clamp. The cacophony continues indifferently. The members thrash inside a storm of their own making, generating a deafening, somewhat beautiful analogy to the loss of meaning and integrity amidst the daily deluge of worldly nonsense and feral vitriol.
With Uniform, the undermining forces are bass frequencies: huge, throbbing hums that seize the walls and shake them back and forth, as though the room itself is wracked by a burdening nausea. The songs themselves are perched upon the rumble, with chugging riffs laced over the surface like lava crust, and vocals narrating the disarray from above like some sort of horrible race day tannoy announcement. And then there’s the drum machine: this cruel pneumatic thrust, like a metal fist smacking against a metal sheet, sometimes adopting a rhythmically regulative function (such as in the mid-tempo stamp of “Tabloid”) and sometimes spiralling into an absurd state of jackhammer overdrive (such as in the denouement of their cover of Sabbath’s “Symptom Of The Universe”, whose binary bass drum judder feels like a sonic counterpart to Tony Conrad’s five-frame film The Flicker). The tendency toward excess is forever threatening to rip Uniform apart; the bass frequencies drop low enough to rupture the track foundations, the drums accelerate until they lose all metronomic function, the guitar solos spiral away into virtuoso auto-cannibalism, the lyrics crash into their own reverberant reflection and become undecipherable smears of their former selves. Structure remains, but it’s coming apart at the seams.
With The Body, the process of self-sabotage is much more explicit. I’ll be honest: my heart sank when I walked back in the room to find neither drums nor guitar anywhere to be seen, with the duo instead bent over suitcases full of pedals and FX. I’d always considered the instruments themselves to be a third member in The Body’s live setup, championing the raw beauty inherent in the rattle of amplifier valves, or the gush of cymbal wash, or the rumble of dissonances folding over themselves. Tonight proves that these elements aren’t as integral as I’d initially thought. Much of the setlist consists of the band remixing themselves, feeding their recorded material through a sort of viscerality maximiser: bass frequencies are doubled, distortion is dialled up to perilous levels. Riffs are set in concrete. Others are chopped up into rhythms that shunt forward like trucks on square wheels, rupturing its own chassis with every lurching advance. Cymbals are mangled into choirs, which soak into the sheets of guitar dissonance. It’s never been easy to separate the instruments that comprise The Body, but this tar-like congealment of distortion, looped chanting, synth noise and percussion is impossible to unpick. In this overhaul of their live performance incarnation, the only element that remains the same is the wail of Chip King – as always, trying desperately to clamber out of the mire through squeals in the high pitches, and as always, sliding helplessly back down the sides each time.