Maggot Heart Returns with Dusk to Dusk
Oh strange women, they don’t mess around. It’s not for love. It’s for the vi-vi-violence.
Maggot Heart is a young enough band that you may require a brief introduction, so let’s do that first. The trio came slinking out of a shadowy, scum-ridden alley (Sweden) last year with the debut City Girls EP and did very bad things to me. They humped my leg and sucked my blood and stole my fucking wallet. Strangely, I didn’t mind. I was hooked on their dark and dirty brand of rock from the second it entered my system, and thereafter developed the habit of doing very bad things to myself while listening. What is this sound? Is it a drug or a disease? Or both — a contaminated needle full of temporary bliss? Whatever the case, after a mercifully short withdrawal period Maggot Heart has returned with another dose. A full dose this time: the ten-track LP entitled Dusk to Dusk. If you’re already familiar with their product, you’ll be thrilled with the new batch; if not, roll up your sleeve and slap a vein, Bucko. Either way, we’re getting fucked up.
It’s not exactly the same high this time around. Dusk to Dusk sees Maggot Heart leaning ever so slightly away from the loose punk edge and deathrock flirtations of City Girls and toward the meat and potatoes of their sound, which is world-weary, allergic-to-life rock covered in sleaze. With its evocations of an undead Thin Lizzy or a strung-out elder sibling of The Runaways, it’s not quite metal, but it is heavier than most of the inexplicable headcheese that passes for “metal” on the radio these days. I don’t mean louder, I mean heavier; that is, Dusk to Dusk achieves heaviness without the bizarre glitz of brickwalling or bitsniffing or whatever passes for “production value” on the radio these days.
First, we have got to talk about that guitar tone. Every chord or melody Linnéa Olsson scrapes out sounds like a snarl covered in flecks of dried blood. It’s all about the crust and the grime, which does wonders to exorcise the specter of wankery from her more fanciful flights across the fretboard. Even when pulling off a dazzling lick or full-blown solo, there’s something so disgruntled about the way she plays, so malignant about the colors produced, that every second becomes a reminder of how much actual feces is excreted around the globe every single day. That’s okay, there’s beauty in feces, right? No? Well, there’s beauty in Olsson’s melodic sensibilities, despite everything I just typed. It’s the dark beauty of blood dripping on clean white sheets. Or blood dripping on soft skin. Or really any of the blood-dripping scenes from Interview with the Vampire. For every hundred of Olsson’s old school rock riffs you’ve heard before, she’s got a hundred brilliantly miserable licks to warp them, smear some black lipstick on their stupid smiles. Gottfrid Åhman’s dexterous bass work usually brings up the rear with some light distortion, adding a sort of dampness that you’ll either find lurid or voluptuous, depending on what you’re into.
“Killing Hand” pretty much literally kicks off the record with a stomping riff that just might be the most infectious of its type I’ve ever heard. The way the guitar and bass flatulate tightly over the relentless, thuggish beat makes me want to strap on some boots and crush a bunch of baby skulls. The stomp continues through the song’s chorus, where its menace is offset by Olsson’s slightly subdued, almost plaintive vocals. An unequivocal opening statement, and a highlight for sure. Other highlights abound, from the stupidly memorable chorus of “Scorpion Time” in which Olsson very nearly screams for the first time, to the madcap drum solo at the climax of “Blood Envy” (courtesy of Uno Bruniusson), to the uncharacteristically mellow mood and heartfelt lyrics (???) of the verse on “Buried Songs” — which is perhaps the closest Maggot Heart will ever come to admitting that love exists and is perhaps something worth living for (???). The album’s clear high point, however, is the title track. With its urgent pace and rousing melodies and anthemic chorus line, “Dusk to Dusk” is already a contender for the best song of the year — and then the chorus comes back around one last time with a new melody screaming in ecstasy and I have no choice but to thoroughly lose my shit.
We’ve sung the praises; it is time to take out the trash. Thankfully there isn’t much. “Pinned Like a Butterfly” is not a bad song, per se, although it is a bit of a dud compared to the others, which is maybe why it’s hiding near the end of the album? Oh, and “Buried Songs”, which I previously praised for its surprise shift of mood, ultimately ends a thrill-ride of an album on a major down note. The song’s chorus is just this limp, go-nowhere…thing. It feels obligatory and underwritten. And then the tension that is otherwise built quite nimbly by the verses never meets relief — never even reaches a fever pitch. The verses fade away, the song drags on, then it ends. Really could have used a nice, loud punch-out there to finish us off. Oh well. These are minor complaints. My one major complaint — which may only apply to me because of my personal relationship with Maggot Heart’s music — resides with the lyrics. You see, I found myself identifying quite viscerally with the detailed yarns about loathing, damnation, and emptiness on City Girls. At least three of those four songs told vivid, cathartic tales of the non-glamorous side of city living. Dusk to Dusk is still thematically bound to the city, but its lyrics seem ultimately nonsensical to me. Here, Olsson’s focus is on wordplay and rhyme, at the expense of narrative. She has traded an orgy of meaning for lexical frivolity, and no matter how long I spend absorbing Dusk to Dusk, that choice will never sit right with me.
The image Dusk to Dusk leaves most firmly in my mind is one of an urban bar of ill repute where fist-flinging bikers and goths dilapidated by vitamin D deficiency drink whisky and red wine in some kind of symbiosis as unlikely as it is uncouth. The kind of place where you’re just as likely to be forced into a séance as to have your teeth kicked in for looking at Mama Leatherchafe’s boyfriend. The album is dark. The album is mean. The album can’t decide whether to lash out at the world with tooth and nail or crawl under its bed to write gloomy poetry until it dies of ennui. Right now, this kind of indecision is one of my favorite things.
I Forgot My Glasses. Can Somebody Tell Me How Many Flaming Toilets This Is?
Dusk to Dusk will be released on July 13th, 2018 by Teratology Sound & Vision.
(Header image VIA)