The Beast of Left and Right by Georgia genre-defiers Lazer/Wulf is the latest release from Retro-Futurist Records, the independent label founded and operated by Savannah sludge superheroes Kylesa. The label has already put out a few records, but they’re still pretty new, and with this one I’m happy to say that they really nailed it. Lazer/Wulf is an undeniable wellspring of talent and potential, and their decision to work with Retro Futurist has left us with a stunning album, doubtlessly one of the best and most innovative so far this year.
Lazer/Wulf is a 3-piece that might most conveniently be categorized as prog-metal, although this certainly wouldn’t suffice to describe all that they are capable of. They’re mostly instrumental, but they sing sometimes. A lot of reviews/descriptions of the band use the term “math rock”, but this album (thankfully) reminds me more of King Crimson’s Red than it does, I dunno, Hella or something. Anyone familiar with my opinions on King Crimson, especially their 73-74 lineup, should appreciate what high praise this comparison is. But perhaps what we should consider here is how little this effort to categorize accomplishes with a band like Lazer/Wulf, or with a lot of the best recent efforts in heavy music, for that matter. The history of the past ten-ish years of metal would seem to be one perpetually concerned with the synthesis of styles. Other genres, like hardcore, prog, and noise, have really started to permeate what we can no longer generalize as a single, fixed type of music. Yet the paradox is that the most notable practitioners of this newly innovative approach to metal, despite their invocation of recognizable influences, end up being memorable precisely because the result is something new, unique, and coherent.
Lazer/Wulf is certainly one of those bands. Sometimes they sound like Tool, sometimes they sound like Baroness, sometimes they sound like Fugazi, but it’s not long before you forget about all this and are content (perhaps forced) to accept that they really just sound like Lazer/Wulf, in a way that nobody else can. Their music is dense, but ironically enough it’s that very density that pulls you in, instead of scaring you away. It twists and turns all over the place, and labyrinthine as it is, at the end of the day it all fits together perfectly. You turn each corner not because you’re looking for an exit, but because you have to know what lies ahead, and are happy to be led further into the unknown by such competent guides. The first time I listened to it I listened from front to back. And as soon as it was done I listened to the whole thing again. It’s that kind of album.
Oh, did I mention that it’s a palindrome (or something)? No, I didn’t. Intentionally, ha! Mostly because before I had the chance to hear the whole album, I was bombarded by all this palindrome hype. And I’m not saying it’s not cool, unique, or impressive that Lazer/Wulf took this approach, reminding the Pandora generation that albums can (should?) be considered structurally. But really, after hearing it, I don’t personally care all that much. And I don’t mean that as an insult; in fact, the reason why I don’t care all that much is that I found the music so impressive in its own right. It’s kind of like Dark Side of the Moon syncing up with “The Wizard of Oz”. Sure, it’s really cool, and if the band in fact intended the whole thing it means they put some serious effort into being thorough and precise. But at the end of the day, the “really cool thing” that is Dark Side of the Rainbow doesn’t really hold a candle to the “supreme achievement of human creativity” that is Dark Side of the Moon. So I think something similar holds for The Beast of Left and Right. I know that its mirrored composition is more than just a gimmick, and I can certainly appreciate how it might have much bigger impact on other listeners, but I’d also like to think that a fitting compliment to the album is that I would have loved it just as much if I had never known that it was conceived palindromically.
Now, I don’t know whether I’d say it’s a perfect album, but what is even more exciting than the idea of a perfect album is the huge potential of a band like Lazer/Wulf. I’m very optimistic about their future, and with the right decisions I think they could quite plausibly be among heavy music’s elite within another couple of releases. I’m also really proud of Retro Futurist here, for many of the same reasons. Clearly the most (or at least, one of the most) vile symptoms of major label monopoly is the incredibly short shelf-life with which it imbues whatever hot new band. Use ’em up, throw ’em out. The relationship between a talented band and a smart label should be about fostering the development of great art, not about making as much quick cash as possible before moving on to the next victim. With this release I see Retro Futurist doing exactly what smaller labels should be doing, which is seeking out true talent and giving it a real chance to shine. With The Beast of Left and Right the results are undeniable, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that, for all parties involved, things will only go up from here.
Sorry if this review had very little in the way of specifics. I’m thinking broadly these days. Just get it for yourself and listen to it 7 or 8 times in a row. You can do so here: