Wolf Eyes have drawn a line in the sand the same way Lou
Reed’s Metal Machine Music did back in 1975. Some will find
the layered sheets of noise appealing; others will consider it
downright appalling and unlistenable. If listeners can get past the
first abrasive electronic blast 45 seconds into Burned
Mind’s first track, “Dead In A Boat,”
they’ll find Wolf Eyes’ uber-indie debut on the Sub Pop
label their most consistent, coherent and cleanly recorded work to
Wolf Eyes is currently Ann Arbor’s most famous indie
export. Originally the solo vehicle for Nate Young, vocalist and
chief instrumentalist, the band expanded into its current lineup
when guitarist Aaron Dilloway and drummer John Olson joined. Since
then, they’ve put out dozens of lo-fi CD-Rs on
Dilloway’s Hanson Records, American Tapes and another local
label, Bulb. Recognized as the leader of the new noise movement,
along with similar artists Black Dice and Lightning Bolt, they were
snapped up by Seattle-based Sub Pop earlier this year.
Despite the wider distribution, Wolf Eyes didn’t tone down
their sound. Instead, Burned Mind is even more punishing,
making better use of silence as negative space. Burned Mind
sees the band carrying over the harshest elements of prior standout
releases Dead Hills and Dread but with more song structure. There
are no verses or choruses on any of these songs, but the
bludgeoning seems to have more of a beginning, middle and end.
This all pays off on “Stabbed In The Face,” by far
the most visceral song the band has ever recorded. Featuring a
looped female scream over grating tonal shifts and massive waves of
crushing feedback, the song gets uncomfortably close to the feeling
of being stabbed in the face. The mayhem doesn’t end there
though: “Village Oblivia” is another standout track.
Held down by a steady kick drum, “Village Oblivia”
sounds like Ann Arbor would during a zombie invasion.
While the front end of the album delivers the best songs, the
latter half is more cohesive. “Rattlesnake Shake” is
perhaps the most aptly titled song, layering drones over bursts of
percussion sounding exactly like a rattlesnake. This relatively
low-key track melts into the piercing title track, whose scorching
high tones burn themselves into listeners’ brains. From there
it’s onto the pulsing bass of “Ancient Delay,”
the most accessible song on the album. “Ancient Delay”
fades into “Black Vomit,” the march to the final noise
climax of Burned Mind.
Wolf Eyes is not for everyone, but any album that can inspire
this much imagery deserves multiple listens. It’s the most
accessible and coherent release from this groundbreaking Ann Arbor
band and it’s the perfect place to start for the uninitiated.
All in all, Burned Mind is a fascinating and psychologically
compelling work at the forefront of its genre.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars