Review: Pupil Slicer – Mirrors

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Real Noun Verber hours, who up?

I gave sort of a shout out to Pupil Slicer‘s upcoming album Mirrors in the last installment of Bump’n’Grind, and the reason that I only mentioned it in passing was that I felt somewhat out of my depth with the record. I’ve often mentioned my dislike of mathcore in that very column, and with their zig-zagging, twitchy songs, this band certainly seemed to fall hard into that category. While that’s not untrue, I’ve since found that there is more to the album than that, so here we are, taking a closer look.

The intro to opener “Martyrs,” a slowly swelling ambient sound, already suggests that something big is headed our way, but when the song hits, I thought that that something might be fairly “normal” grindcore. Until the song literally glitches out and afterwards finds it nearly impossible to settle for a constant rhythm, shifting between them in a manner suggesting something has come loose, and punctuating everything with squealing, jarring stabs from the guitar. Small wonder that the song eventually breaks and has to wind down into a quiet section, in which agonized screams that would befit a depressive black metal band echo through near-nothingness. It slowly winds back up into a hardcore stomp, but doesn’t quite make it back onto the rails of sanity.

Things continue in an unhinged fashion throughout “L’Appel du Vide” with its truncated bars and background vocals consisiting of wooping and eerie choirs, suggesting that yes, we’re all mad here, and I think at this point in my first attempt at listening to the record, my brain was too overwhelmed to notice the shift in the next three tracks. Although the mathcore elements have been dominant thus far, glimpses of grind and hardcore have shone through all the while, and these take the helm for a good while now, granting ample rest before “Worthless” dives right into more bizarre territory again. Heck, the intro to “Husk” even sounds pretty rocking.

The next section of particular note is “Wounds Upon My Skin,” the intro to which sounds like the song is out for a fight, and whose repetitive stomping rhythm and clean vocals are unprecedented and, it turns out, will barely be taken up again anywhere else, making this an outlier and an interesting choice for a preview track. In conjunction with “L’Appel du Vide,” it does a good job of conveying what I’m trying to convey here, namely that weird mathcore isn’t all you’re in for with this album.

At this point in my second attempt at listening to this, my dread was mounting despite appreciating the music much more, as the tracklist was fast approaching “Mirrors are More Fun than Television” and “Collective Unconscious,” the two longest tracks on the album, both cracking the 6-minute mark. In my experience, tracks of that length on an album as experimental as this will often be used to focus on the more “out there” aspects of the music. I was fully expecting prolonged noisescapes or torturously slow songs with a vocal performance fully set on evoking extreme mental anguish. Pupil Slicer, however, surprised me yet again.

While the pace of the tracks is generally slower than most of the other material, they certainly are full-fledged songs rather than exercises in weirdness, and what’s more, they justify their length by exploring new vistas. “Collective Unconscious,” in particular, manages to strike pensive notes without devolving into navel-gazing, and while it doesn’t end on an upbeat note, it creates perhaps the warmest tone we’ve heard so far (on this record—I didn’t dive into the back catalog yet). It feels like an unmasking or a removal of filters, dropping all effects and eccentricities in favor of creating an unexpectedly intimate vibe. I suppose a soft song at the end of a heavy record is much more of a trope than what I described in the last paragraph, but that doesn’t make this any less convincing.

Just by offering enough breathing room and some surprising twists, the album does enough to fall into the thinly populated category of mathcore-based music that I like. For a noob like me, it’s like the next step after enjoying Freighter‘s 2019 effort, representing a more serious take on the matter and going one or two levels deeper into the genre without losing me along the way.

Mirrors will be out on March 12 via Prosthetic Records. Check Bandcamp for pre-orders and social media things to follow them on.

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