This bum-out extravaganza organized by Nate Young of Wolf Eyes suggests that if you stay focused within the underground long enough there’s a good chance you’ll ascend—at least enough to headline Metro. The Trip Metal Fest features a crew of like-minded outsiders who’ve achieved a modicum of success without doing anything to curry favors; the work of each artist has gotten better over time, but certainly not any friendlier—it’s been carried out with uncompromising purity. Wolf Eyes have been trafficking in queasy low-grade electronics and noise for more than two decades now, laying down a model that’s followed by an ever-expanding network of weirdos—though few can touch their murky genius. The trio’s new album Undertow (Lower Floor Music) brings further refinement to their peculiar brand of sonic dread, building on the creepy dreariness of Throbbing Gristle with a slowly slithering electronic bottom layered with heavily treated electric guitar, hollowed-out clarinet incantations, and undulating slabs of warped synthesizer groans. Occasionally Young intones lyrics with the passion of a propped-up corpse—during “Thirteen” he wearily recites, “I never had a lot / I never lost a lot / I just lied in this room”—but his content and detachment are simpatico with the tone of the music, which in spite of all of the torpor delivers a thrilling jolt stunning in its precision.
The sounds Margaret Chardiet generates as Pharmakon, her solo project, are significantly harsher and less measured than the controlled attack of Wolf Eyes. And on the latest Pharmakon album, Contact (Sacred Bones), her sinister synthesizer tones and occasional blown-out beats have increased still further, creeping up on the lacerating waves of power electronics and Chardiet’s ferocious screams, guttural chants, and primal screams. This shift gives her work more fullness, a high-low balance that allows her intensity to seep into the body more insidiously, as the previous bludgeoning is replaced by hints of subtlety. Live, however, all bets are off—her unhinged presence and pure investment almost trump the brutality of the music she grinds out.
An early member of Wolf Eyes, Aaron Dilloway left the group in 2005 to pursue a complementary practice built around fucked-up tape manipulation and nauseous synth tones. His new album The Gag File (Dais) sometimes shares a similar strain of seasick spasming with the new Wolf Eyes album, but Dilloway alters the pitch, tempo, and stability of found sounds more often, whether he’s warping a prerecorded song on “Karaoke With Cal” or dropping in unsettling, droning party banter on “No Eye Sockets (For Otto & Sindy).” v