Review: The Body / Dis FigOrchards Of A Futile Heaven

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A collaborative record almost 4 years in development, Orchards Of A Futile Heaven is the latest project from both harsh experimentalists The Body and the Berlin-based Felica Chen‘s dynamic project Dis Fig.

Both Dis Fig and The Body are artists whose disparate stylistic origins and singular delivery bely natural collaborative tendencies. The Body are particularly known to thrive in collaboration, having recorded music with Thou, Full Of Hell, Krieg, Uniform and roughly a thousand other bands. Orchards Of A Futile Heaven is Dis Fig’s third major collaborative record following 2020s In Blue with The Bug and the 2022 dreamcrusher collaboration Chrysalis (Suite) – as well as the soundtrack for the titular Alice Z Jones project Cast Off that same year.

What both share most, however, is a subtle flair for pop structures. Though less immediately apparent in The Body’s discography, Dis Fig’s music—loosely classified like a lot of harsher contemporary electronic music as post-industrial, a label which undersells the breadth of the project’s scope—is particularly notable in its harmonization of conventional pop and dance structures paired alongside the project’s instrumental harshness. Their debut record Purge—a really fantastic album—highlights this most, where tracks like “Drum Fife Bugle” and “U Said U Were” invoke equally the spirit of power electronics, dubstep, and doom metal. In The Body’s case, it’s most apparent in their collaborations with the likes of Uniform, and generally their late-2010s output onwards, where a more prominent electronic influence highlights their compositional skills, kind of elucidating the raw structures of their songs from the walls of distortion. So you end up in a situation where The Body produces a song like “Nothing Stirs”, a song that has legitimate earworm moments to it, something unthinkable when listening to something from All The Waters Of The Earth Turn To Blood.

“Eternal Hours” opens the record with peaking bass and percussion that threaten to overwhelm the mix. The vocals of Dis Fig lurch into the track, almost crooning in the open space of the mix before Chip King‘s trademark high-register squawk throws itself into frame. “Eternal Hours” feels almost like the bones of an understated downtempo track, not a thousand miles removed from the last a.s.o. record that’s overwhelmed with this mammoth stampede, injecting the track with The Body’s signature combination of burning anxiety and subtle menace.

Chip’s vocals are fascinating to me because a lot of extreme music—most of it, to be honest—still uses vocals in a pretty limited capacity. This isn’t a criticism, since most extreme music instead relies on the instruments or lyrics to add a duality of expression, but there’s a lot of music whose vocal stylings seem like a mono-emotional exercise that’s there out of genre obligation. Chip’s vocal delivery is always done in a way that can speak simultaneously to both violence and panic, both pain and even mirth, all at once. Despite how off-putting they can be, to me they really define The Body’s catalog in a way nothing else could. Its most common comparison is the rooster-crow, mic-less vocals from early Jeromes Dream records, but The Body always seemed more tempered and deliberate in their delivery. But really, both are just in the same lineage of extended vocal techniques, as is the death metal growl and the black metal shriek.

I saw Meredith Monk live this past month, performing mostly acapella as expected. The absence of instrumentation and—for the most part—lyrics meant everything evoked was solely the responsibility of her unique and singularly strange vocals, both angelic and guttural. Listening to this record now—paired alongside my experiences with seeing Monk’s performance, alongside the more traditional delivery from Dis Fig— reframed how I saw Chip’s vocal delivery, where the inaudible lyrical content is subsumed by a warbling, tinnitus squeal, and exists as another malleable, widely evocative instrument for The Body. This might have been an obvious insight to some, but despite being a fan I’d never considered Chip’s vocals in much detail.

The start-stop low-end of “To Walk A Higher Path” establishes the scattershot rhythm of the rest of the record. Interestingly, The Body’s more subdued presence detaches them from the track’s identity, stitching them into the tapestry of samples, as if the wails of Chip and the lo-fi vocal samples of the beginning come from the same loop bank. This dynamic is inverted on “Dissent, Shame” where the background nature of Dis Fig’s early vocals gives way to a crushing instrumental reminiscent of The Body’s material from the late-2010s onwards. This gives way to a more impassioned and soulful second half, where really quite stunning vocal harmonies scrape tectonically against staccato synth work.

The title track, “Orchards Of A Futile Heaven”, is perhaps appropriately the purest distillation of both project’s contributions to the album. The vocals jostle for position, with Dis Fig’s melodic leads overtaking The Body’s shrillness, with mono-rhythmic, minimal drum work giving way to more textured and intricately syncopated percussion, before joining together at the track’s climax. It’s like an act of violence contextualized by a eulogy, and is probably the compositional highlight of the record, and one of the best tracks by either artist.

“Holy Lance” begins with a fittingly liturgical bent, a pseudo-organ accompaniment to mournful vocals subtly dubbed with what sounds like low pitch-shifting. While the track explodes in its second half, it feels like the most underwritten track on the record and its dense texture doesn’t grip me in the way the other tracks do.

“Coils Of Kaa” begins relatively sparse, with Dis Fig’s vocals being accented by light choral elements and distorted, bubbling-up bits of percussive noise. As the track mounts in intensity, it incorporates a rhythmic riser which develops alongside the percussion to make a warped breakbeat that the entire track centers around. A slow burn, but a highlight.

It’s an album that feels not just cathartic as a listener but feels like it was made as an act of egress, like every scream and blast of feedback came not from conscious composition but just something that wrenched itself from Chen and The Body and flung itself into the mix. “Back To The Water” finishes the album with something that feels more transient and immaterial, the sound of the post-egress absence leaving only the loose outline of the prior 6 tracks, the vague spirit of the album evoked by Dis Fig and The Body once again trading vocals to end the record—embodying the spirit of the entire record while also emphasizing the best qualities of their collaboration.

3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell

Orchards Of A Futile Heaven is out now on Thrill Jockey Records.

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