Not at a Loss for Words: A Review of Canopy’s Humanity Loss
Earlier this month, Giver gave our dear Hans a chance for introspection. Canopy‘s particular brand of sludge has me feeling similarly wistful. Let’s take a long-winded look at why!
Let’s start here: Nostalgia is a pernicious form of make-believe. It’s not so much remembering as it is a way to create an inscrutable, transposable mythology. It forgets as much as it recalls; it grows and shrinks recklessly; it is invention with minimal recollection. It is, on a cultural level, precisely how we’ve gotten into this goddamned mess. On a more personal level, nostalgia operates as an illusory bridge between disparate points in your life that emits an alluring aura of constancy.
With that said, I cannot separate Atlanta’s sludge-slinging Canopy from a particular period of my life. Not that Canopy is from that period, mind you, but rather because they return me so precisely to that past. In the nascent noughties, back when ThePRP was proudly and unironically known as the Pimp Rock Palace, I spent a lot of my dial-up and DSL time on a message board called Instrife. Originally known as Wickedland, Instrife had, simply with its name change, shed its general predilection for nu-metal and transformed itself into a serious encyclopedia of posters obsessed with underground metal and hardcore. Without waxing too poetic about this community (in 2003, I went to Hellfest in Syracuse to hang out and meet folks from the board! As an undergrad, I wrote a paper about Instrife avatars and their role in shaping/creating online personae!), I will state simply that Instrife—and one of its posters in particular—convinced a younger me that sludge was both metal’s most potent form and a genre with a quantifiable, traceable, accumulatable membership. Sludge bands, like Pokemon, could all be caught.
The Earth Beater, named after Greenmachine‘s debut album, was this poster. Their username alone inspired reverence. Their daily playlists boasted of Seven Foot Spleen CDs, Corrupted split 7”s, Noothgrush tapes, out-of-print Toadliquor LPs, and mp3.com gems like Trenchant. There wasn’t a band, album, or label Earth Beater hadn’t heard, owned, or already pored through. It’s hard to fathom, now in 2020, how one person on one message board could operate as The Source (not The Source) so singularly, but this was 2001. Fucking Friendster didn’t even exist yet! It was my goal not necessarily to emulate Earth Beater but to at least approximate their unyielding commitment to all things sludge.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Earth Beater never actually owned all of this stuff and that theirs was a carefully crafted online image. This even happened on Instrife with another poster: someone who claimed to possess a seemingly impossible collection of rare emo and skramz vinyl turned out to be a total poseur having a lark. I never lost faith in EB, though, and thanks to their recommendations, I ended up owning a lot of those aforementioned albums. Hooray for me.
Which brings us, quite circuitously, back to Canopy. Their new album Humanity Loss, released digitally this January and slated for a physical release in May, reminds me so much of Israel’s Rabies Caste that I feel entirely transported. It’s not so much that Humanity Loss is a carbon copy of Rabies Caste’s 2001 major-label debut Let the Soul Out and Cut the Vein, but it possesses the same air of mystery, the same miserable attitude, the same despondent tone that marked the salad days of sludge’s late second-wave. It also reminds me that, in the interceding decades, I’ve drifted to various other genres and all but left sludge to its earlier incarnations. I have not, for a long time, combed the sewers, scoured the underbellies, or trawled the swamp floors for new sludge bands the way I used to. Solipsistically, nostalgically, I was content to believe, however erroneously, that, besides a few notable bands, the genre peaked with my interest in it. That’s nonsense, of course: such a narrative implicates me in matters that have literally nothing to do with me.
Unlike a lot of aforementioned second-wave sludge, there isn’t an abundance of New Orleans influence here, nor is Canopy’s guitar tone that gravelly or engrimed. As with Rabies Caste, Canopy writes more industrially-inclined and mechanically pulsive riffs but with added layers of atmosphere and warmth almost entirely missing from their forebears. I wouldn’t call the riffing on Humanity Loss dexterous, but there is a certain headiness to Canopy’s guitar-work that is quite satisfying. “Exigent Weight,” the album’s stand-out track, combines thick, malevolent riffs with the more ponderous quality of mid-career Isis while still remaining rooted firmly in the coarse, murky blues aesthetics of any good sludge band. There’s no post-metal shimmer, glitter, or incandescence, nor is there the pungent nimbleness of Rwake or Icepick Revival. The dread, however, that those bands exude in unique ways is oppressively present. Your knuckles are only scraping the pavement some of the time, but your head is hanging down towards your heart all of the time.
Much of Humanity Loss follows a similar formula to “Exigent Weight”: moments of unfettered brutality and unrepentant angst intertwined with forlorn passages of moribund acceptance. Tortured, throaty bellows hover and reverberate over the music until climatic moments of cohesive, jarring intensity. Similarly to “Exigent Weight,” the exceptional “No Cure” and “Hostile Architecture I” are claustrophobic yet sprawling compositions that gape astoundingly at an infinite emptiness and rage impotently at enclosing walls. For Canopy, it’s all too much, all too little, and designed exactly that way.
If I have any qualms with Humanity Loss, it might be its length. The extended track times might leave some listeners cold and some would-be listeners a bit wary. “Hostile Architecture II,” for example, while possessing a few choice moments, might have been folded into the superior “Hostile Architecture I” or just simply left off the record. Additionally, I understand conceptually following “No Cure” with the psycho-palliative “Adrenochrome,” but I’m not sure if both tracks are so different that a little compression or concision might not have made for a stronger finish to the album.
Regardless of a little bloating, what makes Humanity Loss good is its downtrodden commitment to pain and misery. This is the sound of endless wars and ever-expanding imperial outposts. This is the sound of a fracturing, decimated public commons. This is the sound of global health crises, environmental degradation, stolen elections, raging underemployment, and widespread disillusionment. This is the sound of 2001 and 2020. This is, indeed, what it’s like when worlds collide.
And this is why I so connect with Humanity Loss. It is a reminder that things have not improved—that there is no mythical golden past. It is reminder that the loss of humanity is a constant, ever-happening, always-reforming loss. In the album’s very title, the nesting together of two distinct nouns indicates their co-constitutive nature. Humanity Loss reminds us that if we want 2039 to be different, we have to respond to loss not by looking back for a fabled past wholeness but by looking forward to a future form of being and becoming with which we have yet to reckon or imagine.