This new split from Wolok and Rotting Heaven is BUCK. WILD.
At some point in the intervening months between my writing about The Anatomy of Madness and its actual release, the nefarious ne-er do-wells in Wolok divined through some obsidian portal (likely a Dell) that I had some interest in their dark arts. A few days later, a likely cursed copy of the split arrived on my desk, and there it sat, leering at me like some forbidden sex idol, replete with engorged member and steely malice. Did I dare to grab it (the member) and allow its carnal malevolence to wash over me? Yes. I dared.
The next moments are a bit of a haze, but from what I can gather, things played out a lot like William S. Burroughs‘s The Western Lands. There were dudes bangin’ each other while dressed like alligators, bodies erupting into pustule-ridden plague heaps due to Cold War Soviet viruses, and drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Crocodiles on krokodil, if you will, bangin’ each other. All with an ostensibly black metal show tune for a soundtrack.
As I first noted when fever dreams of the forbidden split fetish entered my subconscious mind, pairing the demi-black metal trio with the absurdists in Rotting Heaven seemed a match made in hell. The countless spins I’ve given The Anatomy of Madness since its taboo hooks and profane features took hold of my pathetically frail will only affirm this sentiment. Anatomy is a weird-ass album, as if both bands decided to go whole hog on violating conventions and expectations. The end result is certainly asterisk-black metal, at this point only nominally housed within that particular hall of extremity, cozying up to Fleurety in the wings, drinking absinthe and telling dirty jokes several cuils removed from reality.
To put it bluntly, The Anatomy of Madness is a pure WTF! of an album, even in the two collaborators’ respective discographies. It’s challenging, but not in the way that something overtly complex like Krallice or Deathspell Omega is challenging. It’s challenging because of how got dang ludicrous it is, in the way a bad time travel (Exhibit A: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) is challenging.
Thankfully, I happen to be a reviewer who enjoys pure WTF! (and Godzilla), which I suppose explains why Wolok sent me this damn fertility statue and asked me to relive my bad Burroughs flashbacks. So, in celebration of pure WTF!, I’m going to forego a typical transcription of this album’s merits (of which there are many, honest!) and instead highlight my favorite moments of pure WTF! that make Anatomy such a wild ride. Now, in descending order:
10. The Fear Factory-esque pumping drums in Wolok’s “Tremors.” Honestly, this element isn’t that WTF! in the grander scheme of all that is Wolok (in fact, I’ve labeled the band’s sound awfully pneumatic before), but it is pretty dang weird considering this band is nominally a black metal group. “Tremors” is essentially an industrial black metal burner, but it has more pump and thump to it than anything ever written by Spektr. Nice.
9. That cuckoo-clock in Wolok’s “Tremors.” It’s faint, but it’s definitely there, mocking you with its inexorable reminder that time and life are both fleeting. While many black metal bands fear deviation from the norm, Wolok seem to be not only unafraid of but at home attempting to throw everything at the wall, not really caring if any of it sticks because at least the cool design can be played off as a neat piece of performance art. Thankfully, that cuckoo-clock sticks, and now it’s hanging up there on that wall, glowering at you with sinister intent and adding seriously bad vibes to “Tremors.”
8. That gabber drum break in Rotting Heaven’s “Coronation of the World’s End.” Gabber techno isn’t something that’s easy to pull off in metal; The Berzerker tried it, but despite my objections, they’re mostly remembered for their kooky masks and that time they covered Tatu (uh, maybe don’t watch that at work). That said, the spastic little gabber interlude between the synthesized chimes and a traditional black metal riff really does the trick here, nailing the hokey 70s Italian horror film vibe perfectly (more on that momentarily).
7. Those glam metal, Journey-batin’ melodic riffs at the end of Rotting Heaven’s track “The Bloody Reaper.” Melody is certainly no stranger to black metal, but it is a bit odd to hear some dual guitar harmonies flare up and start shooting fireballs out of their nuts just after some ripping blast beats n’ trem on the most straightforward black metal track on the album. Yes, those melodic leads sound just like the verse licks and cheesy synth from “Separate Ways.” Yes, it totally rules.
6. That weird, Casio metronome beat in Wolok’s “The Murky Waters of Life.” Tick tick tock tick tick tock goes that odd little synthesized beat that leads in Wolok’s intro track. Tick tick tock. It’s as strange and unsettling as Jute Gyte‘s own little experiment in timekeeping in “Mice Eating Gold.” Tick tick tock tick tick tock goes the clock amid those dreamy washes of reverb, and my sanity starts slipping awaaaayyyy.
5. Those woozy riffs in “The Murky Waters of Life.” Speaking of dreamy washes of reverb, Wolok’s guitar-work is at its most deranged on this track. Right from the start, the band lulls you into a space of tension, with the reverb and effect-drenched chords pulling you hither and thither, turning your stomach and upending the world. It’s dissonant, yet oddly compelling, and by the time the vicious double-bass rolls start, you’ve lost all hope of gaining your sea-legs.
4. That Lucio Fulci-esque introduction to Rotting Heaven’s “Coronation of the World’s End.” At several points throughout their half of the split, Rotting Heaven seem to be paying tribute to classic 70s cult horror films, all with tongue firmly planted in cheek. “Coronation of the World’s End” opens with an ultra-cheesy synth line and ghoulish sound effects that certainly pave the way for the flaying riffs and gibbering vocals to come.
3. This dorky Jungle Book interlude in “The Bloody Reaper.” Look, I don’t know how else to describe this one. About halfway through this song (and before the righteous Journey tribute), there’s a bizarre little atmospheric interlude that sounds just like the “Jungle Beat Score” from Disney’s classic animated film. Is it out of place? Yes, totally, but it also lends authenticity to that 70s cult shredder vibe and the way those films perpetually kept you guessing by throwing baffling scenes at you right and left.
2. The “Oooooohs” in Rotting Heaven’s “An Altar of Sacrifice.” “Altar of Sacrifice” is a harrowing, twisting song full of rumbling bass and clanging drums amid the heinous black metal riffs. Then just as the guitars divebomb down some maddening scales, all of the instruments fall out, leaving only a choir of vocals to lull you into devastation with a series of acapella “Oooohs.” It’s a gorgeous, jarring moment that delivers one of the best twists on the whole split.
1. All of Wolok’s “Skull Gnawer.” Although the two prior Wolok tracks still flirted with black metal, “Skull Gnawer” essentially abandons the track wholesale, instead droning on with a simple, almost post-rock riff juxtaposed against lush leads and surprisingly warm atmosphere. When the tribal drums peal in to wash you away, it becomes apparent that Wolok, a black metal band, have crafted one of the most bafflingly cathartic experiences you’ll hear in extreme metal all year, rivaled only by Dodecahedron‘s “An Ill-Defined Air of Otherness.” It’s emotional in a way you’d never expect a black metal song to be, and it’s just another sign that Wolok don’t care about anything but the unexpected.
So, with all that pure WTF!, can I recommend The Anatomy of Madness to everyone? Honestly, not really. As mentioned, it’s a challenging listen, one full of obtuse left turns and wildly unconventional elements. But for adventurous listeners (and those who just want to get their freak on), it’s a wonderfully bizarre adventure, as captivating as it is inexplicable, and I honestly can’t wait to give it another dozen spins to parse through all the oddities in the cabinet. There’s so much rich content beneath the black metal veneer that digging deep is a delight for fans who want something a little more thought-provoking.
For crafting one of the oddest things you’ll hear all year, and managing to make it compelling despite its baffling eccentricities, The Anatomy of Madness receives