Ails — The Unraveling: 2 Reviews, One Click!
Somewhere in the Multiverse there is a version of Richter who has never heard Ludicra before. He goes first.
1. DoppelRichter’s Review
Hello, people of whatever janky sham of a quantum field you arrogantly call The Universe. My name is
Richter DoppelRichter, and I have come to tell you about Ails. Not my personal ails, which are innumerable. I’m here to tell you about your ails, and the band Ails, and the many ways by which Ails can cure your ails. What ails, you ask? Pffffft. You too have innumerable ails, and paramount among them is your paltry universe’s gaudy excuse for black metal. Your black metal is all fucked up, and Ails is here to fix it.
How? It’s easy!
First, we shall identify the most glaring ways in which your precious little notion of black metal is fundamentally impotent if not entirely incorrect.
A. Atmospheric Black Metal. How did every band in this subgenre end up agreeing that it makes good aesthetic sense to pick four chords, strum them real fast, drown them in reverb and lay them over a bed of ramshackle blastbeats that goes on for 12-22 minutes? Was there an international summit meeting about this? A memo? You won’t get any of that hackneyed shit with Ails. This band does not hide behind reverb or field recordings of babbling brooks or pictures of waterfalls. They’re right up in your face with instrumentation that sounds like actual people are performing it, as opposed to woodland spirits from yon ancientmost elder yore. In place of mere chords, they use actual riffs. In place of synth-laden mist, they weave wandering lead melodies (they’ve got two guitarists for a fucking reason). In place of blastbeats (most of the time), they build grooves (mostly in 6/8 as opposed to that clichéd old 4/4). In place of earth, wind & fire: more riffs.
B. Icelandic Black Metal. All instruments recorded in the Ice Cave from Final Fantasy I (and/or IX)? No thank you. I understand that your country is quite wintry, but that doesn’t mean you have to play outside in the cold all the time, does it? How many meters/feet of extension cord are you running in order to dispatch your magnum opus from the center of a glacier? You’re too far away, nobody can tell what chords you’re playing — and no, that does not make you mysterious. Ails plays chords that anyone can hear. Ails places their microphones so close that they’re covered in spit, sweat, pick shavings, drumstick sawdust, and blood. From the sound of it, Ails performs in a padded cell with no air conditioning, no windows, and no hope that they will ever be released. Their vitriol does not come to you blunted by icewind gusts; it scratches its way inside you, wears you like a meat suit and carves meaningless hieroglyphs on the walls of your skull. Basically what I’m saying is that Ails refreshingly eschews obfuscation for articulation (riffs!). The production is clear and dry, leaving plenty of space for every scratch of the strings or snap of the snare, every cough or shriek or snarl to be completely intelligible.
C. DSBM. If you’re not going to play like you mean it, go kill yourself already. Ails plays like there is a reason they got out of bed this morning. Even if that reason was merely to vomit disgust and rage back into the face of the same brutal world which sends one-man-DSBM bands running to their closets where they’ll spend the day recording 7 LPs, 11 EPs and 26 indistinguishable splits. Life is depressing; suicide is readily available. You can take it lying down like a pansy upon your bed of super limited, hand-labeled CD-Rs or you can learn to play an instrument (like Ails), write some actual songs (like Ails), and kick this underwhelming, infinitely disputable life in the junk (like Ails).
D. Portuguese Black Metal. Does anyone in this country own a recording device that is not a single input jack on a cassette player? I literally cannot tell if you are playing black metal or washing dishes. Ails never wash dishes. They smash all the dirty dishes and then pick up their instruments and fucking wail. The songs have a range and depth which respect your intelligence instead of insulting it with the same rote nonsense everyone’s been peddling since Varg first picked up a guitar. The term “lo-fi” is not in Ails’ vocabulary. They push all dials up to mid-fi and don’t bother to smooth out any of the rough edges with studio cream either. Everything is naked and whipped raw and inflamed. No mystical pretense, no tape hiss chicanery, and no fucking cheese.
Speaking of cheese: E. USBM (read: shoegaze). Ails doesn’t gaze at anything. Ails has cut out its eyes to spite its face and hurled them at the wall. NEXT.
Look, people. The Unraveling is 11 months pregnant with melodic leads, jaunty drum fills, and vocals that come ripping out of the singers’ throats like razorblades hidden in candy bars. It’s black metal played by people who listen to something other than black metal. If you’re sitting there right now with your throat somehow unshredded, then scream along with the double-edged shrieking attack. If your neck is bizarrely unsnapped, then headbang in thrall to the powerful rhythm section. If you’ve got a glass-top coffee table that is for some reason not yet smashed into a thousand shards, then crank this puppy up and smash away.
There. All Better.
2. Richter’s Review
Let me start by explaining why I agreed to a split review with some jerk from a divergent branch of quantum potentialities. I am a huge fan of Ludicra, whose (timely?) demise led more or less directly to the formation of Ails. For anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Ludicra’s music, it would be frustrating verging on impossible to discuss The Unraveling without mentioning Ludicra. But is that fair to Ails? No, not really. Or maybe — for reasons we’ll dive into shortly — it is. Either way, The Unraveling presents people like me with a conundrum: Because we still grieve over the unexpected demise of Ludicra, we want Ails to give us more of that sound; yet we are afraid that any attempt to continue that sound cannot possibly live up to our lofty — and extremely reasonable — expectations.
Nothing DoppelRichter said about The Unraveling is incorrect. And yet all of it could have been said about any of the five extant works from Ludicra. You see, there is nothing Ails does now that Ludicra did not do before: Christy Cather’s riff phrasings are right on point; Laurie Shanaman’s bloodsick howls are as sharp and unmistakable as ever. None of which would be problematic in the least, but for the fact that Ludicra, in their striving to create transformative tunes, did several things which Ails does not do. For a listener who wants nothing more from the young Ails than more Ludicra, this may not be a problem at all. For me, it is a moderate problem — and a huge mystery.
Because, to my ears, it sounds like Ails went straight back to Ludicra’s roots to reboot the latter’s trajectory. That trajectory was one of slow yet steady expansion toward the incorporation of a magical diversity of elements into a punk-dappled black metal framework. Ails has turned the clock back on that expansion, delivering a taught and sure-footed collection of songs which, while masterfully executed, turn their noses up at the great unknown. In short, they’re playing it safe. And for the life of me I can’t understand why.
Silver lining? Putting aside the fact that they are toiling in the shadow of one of USBM’s most distinctive acts, Ails does not sound like any other black metal bands I can think of. It bears repeating that The Universe needs more bands that are both willing and able to sound nothing like the black metal next door without falling into the weird for the sake of weird trap. Did Ails knock it out of the park this time around? No. But I still firmly believe that The Universe needs a cure, and Ails may be the only ones who have it.
The Unraveling was released on CD/LP by The Flenser on the stupidest day of the year (4-20).