Review: The Vomit Arsonist’s Only Red
Only Red, the new album from Andrew Grant’s The Vomit Arsonist, doesn’t seem to fit anywhere.
Like the best of the genre (such as Theologian or Brighter Death Now, who is even name-checked as an explicit inspiration in the album’s press notes), Only Red is a dark, moody work able to draw on convention and coax forth new sounds, constantly pushing back boundaries and redrawing the boundaries of death industrial. Stomping power electronics, wispy dark ambient and unrelenting noise come together in Grant’s most successful balancing act yet, and perhaps his first moment of real greatness.
In our interview last year, Grant went deep on his anxiety and the catharsis only his music can bring. It’s all there on Only Red, his most emotionally exhausting and multifaceted work so far. Behind the nigh-constant thundering of bass drums, ethereal synth pads and a mask of distortion, Grant wails expressive self-portraits as if each track is a new bulldozer coming to crush him beneath. His words may be obfuscated by a plethora of vocal effects but his meaning is always clear.
Matching Grant’s harrowing vocal performance is the racket happening simultaneously. Dynamics wander around, never content to settle on simply alternating between loud and quiet, instead subtly changing and moving organically as if to copy the stream-of-consciousness vocals.
Tiny flourishes such as these are part of what help to propel Only Red to its status in the lofty upper echelon of the genre. The devil is in the details, as demonstrated by the tormented bellowing in “No One Can Help You” and “I’m Not Fine” or the surprisingly delicate transformations to the main beat in “It Just Is.” Sporadic synths flesh out the especially emotive moments when the percussion drops out completely, keeping a constant stream of sound going throughout almost the whole album. The aforementioned “No One Can Help You” is a fine example, with bassy noise spraying gray skies behind Grant’s pained shouting.
Thematically, Only Red doesn’t seem to touch on much new ground for Grant, but what matters is the way his music reflects more than ever his dark personal philosophy. Without a single word, the penultimate track “Unwelcome Peace” manages to cultivate what is easily the most unsettling four minutes in Grant’s discography, all washing synths and choppy breathing.
Only Red has no shortage of highlights, but the album’s closing tracks are where it truly hits its stride. Beginning with “It Just Is,” each track is an improvement on the last, culminating in the incredible, slow-burning trilogy of “No One Can Help You,” “Unwelcome Peace” and a brilliant reworking of “Go Without” from 2012’s album of the same title by Kristoffer Oustad (whose stellar new album, Filth Haven, is also out now on Malignant). The final track in particular features clanging, metallic percussion and a siren-like synth lead between explosions of utterly vitriolic screams and pounding bass.
Ultimately, Only Red is about as close as noise gets to anthemic while still being unafraid to challenge its audience with cryptic freakouts. The balance between the two is key and it’s what works to make this album The Vomit Arsonist’s best.