In a harrowing gesture of violent iconoclasm, Barren Womb’s latest release Nique Everything begins boldly by beginning quietly. Granted, “quietly” is a relative term when you’re talking about noise rock bands, but all things considered, album opener “Make sure you get yr whole head in front of the shotgun” is deliberate and contained enough that the raucousness of the songs which follow might even come as a surprise. It tells the tale, told plenty of times before, of the torpor which defines Life as much as it seems to define so many individual lives – wake up, eat, work, watch TV, repeat. Lazy, muddied guitar slides, a conversation between two distinct vocal identities (one sardonic and drained, the other violently inflamed), and an overall sense of tar-drenched crawling culminate into a single, expanding piece of existential regret.
It’s an effective and well-executed opener, but as soon as the following track, “Heap blame/put to shame”, hits, I’m almost glad it’s out of the way, because it becomes quickly obvious that the rest of this album is not necessarily going to trudge with the same monotonous despair as its opener. It’s almost as if “Shotgun” was the setup for an ensuing concept album – its protagonist recalls how “last night I watched the sun pour down, and for the first time in a long time I felt uneasy,” and it’s tempting to think that the space between tracks 1 and 2 is a similar turning point, between a life of dreary familiarity and a violent return to the chaos which societal indoctrination has allowed (forced?) us to escape.
A bit far-fetched, perhaps, but regardless this song is a killer – rhythmically, it surges, while an unexpected layer of acoustic guitars and some Middle-Eastern-sounding mode (I dunno, phrygian or some shit) make it one of the most unique songs I’ve ever heard that still manages to stay true to some kind of a noise rock blueprint. Oh and there’s a really nice major third on the verse vocals, and you guys know how I loooooooove major thirds. And there’s the indispensable line, “sometimes I feel like the only asshole in heaven”. AND there’s a part that sounds just like the intro to “The Thing That Should Not Be” – talk about a song that has it all.
But what’s really great about this song is how its quirky, merciless variety – as opposed to the intentional mundanity of “Shotgun” – is largely indicative of how the rest of the album is going to play out. It segues into “White raven”, which sounds like Mudhoney covering a Tiger Army song, and then into “Piss jugs”, which is the real thrashy ripper of the album, and would sound like a straight-up punk song if it wasn’t continually fragmented by some gnarly-ass (and technically sound!) guitar runs. From that we get to “Town’s back the way you came”, which feels a bit more serious than the last two tracks, and features a legitimately melodic chorus, but even for this seriousness is undermined by these triplet guitar licks that would be more at home in, I don’t know, a honky tonk, or that Monkees song “I’m a Believer”. Indeed, it seems that at every opportunity, Barren Womb is insistent on upsetting the expectations that would typically serve as the foundation for a noise rock album – punk ‘tude, metal riffage, and big distortion are all there in spades, but rather than culminating into a final product, they simply provide the canvas on which this band does a bunch of weird stuff.
Of course, the 2nd half of the album continues inventorying the weirdness. “Alyampari” switches between a tambourine-laden noir verse and a garagey/proto-punk chorus. “Man fucks burning goat” is angular and screamy like good noise rock oughta be, with cymbal bell hits on just the right sixteenth notes. “Devil run the game” is some dank bayou, True Detective soundtrack shit – equal parts demon hoedown and earnest contemplation. “You can’t fire me, because I quit” is balls-to-the-wall rock and roll, and probably the clearest showcase on the album of the fact that this band has chops. “Svart hav” is a sad, slow boogie of a closer sung in what I can only assume is Norweigan, and while I can’t understand the words they nonetheless convey a sentimentality which, oddly enough, doesn’t seem out of place on an album which is otherwise – and constantly – subversive and eccentric.
Of course, considered alone, the fact that these songs are what they are as listed above might not seem like any huge innovation, but it’s really the fact that they are lined up, one after the other, on an album which has no right to be this heterogenous. It’s a truly impressive feat, and the result is a great album that stands alone in a genre which is known for volume and consistency more than it’s known for variety and craft.
Click here to get your hands on this delightful release.