Looking back and catching up.
About two years ago, I found the debut album from New Zealand-based band Tuscoma in my inbox. For some reason, I recently remembered this, and eventually also remembered that I gave them a shout out the week the album came out, where I—probably quite wrongly—described them as black metal. Seeing that they dropped their new album just last month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to set the record(s) straight and talk about both releases.
While Tuscoma’s tags on Bandcamp do vindicate me somewhat by including “post black metal,” none of them seem to describe the band fully. The debut kicks off with what could be considered a trademark of sorts; that peculiar not-quite-blastbeat that seems more suited for a fill than for sustaining a song will pop up more often throughout the record. It feels weird at first because you kind of expect a transition to a more “normal” rhythm at any point. This lack of resolve creates a certain tension, a feeling that never quite leaves throughout the album; even when songs switch to more relatable rhythmic backbones, the almost always dissonant guitars maintain that certain unease.
And when the band isn’t doing their darndest to freak you out with these elements, they will try to grind your mind to a stub with repetition, which can have a sort of hypnotic effect such as on “Boxlife,” but more often resembles a tweaker pacing up and down in a room, stuck in an uncomfortable rut and too high-strung to find permanent rest. “Crooked Frames,” a highlight of the album, illustrates this well; the mathcore-ish opening followed by surging and swirling guitars sounds like the band is being propelled by forces beyond their control, the realization of which is accompanied by mounting dread in the chorus.
With that, I think we have all the main adjectives of Tuscoma’s sound laid out: dissonant, repetitive, uneasy, chaotic (at times). The album feels like a stark and convincing depiction of modern-day insanity.
If the follow-up could be subsumed under a motto, it would be something like “smoothed out.” The duo recruited a session bassist for this recording, who rarely makes his presence felt directly but helps to round out the sound overall. A lot of the abrasiveness of the debut has been filed off, and accordingly, some of the dissonance and the chaos is gone, too. While this is unmistakably the same band, I don’t think songs like “Sustained Overflow” and “Something is Never Enough,” with their largely laid-back pace and almost comfortable vibe, would have been possible on the first record.
What the band doubles down on, however, is the repetitiveness of their compositions, and they now often favour its hypnotic effect over the manic, menacing one. To this end, the songs have become noticeably longer. “Aperture Unknown,” for example, starts out frantically, but where the debut would have left it at that, here it goes into a long bridge that lulls you in before the song erupts again. Repetitive parts are not always contrasted with intensity like this though, and at times, it feels like the songs don’t quite warrant their extended run-time.
Despite missing some of the immediacy and restlessness of the first album, this is by no means an easy-going record. There is still an underlying sense of unease, brought to the fore most notably on the wonky, slithering intro of “The Fundamentalist,” which almost sounds like something off the new Oranssi Pazuzu. Similarly, the chaos is far from totally gone, even if few songs commit to it as consistently as “Softly Spoken” and the standout “Nothing is Forever.” If the debut sounds like it could be pushed over the edge at any moment, this one grits its teeth and comes to terms with its insanity, occasionally loosing all constraints, but always reeling itself back in.