Review: Lightning Bolt – Sonic Citadel

Heavy, underground DIY music revels in projecting an image of ‘giving no fucks’. Whether this holds true of all within the shade of its ever expanding umbrella is a different debate for a different time. That Providence, Rhode Island duo Lightning Bolt have given not a solitary fuck since forming in 1994 is absolutely not up for debate, however. Well, this may be disingenuous. The two Brians (Chippendale, drums/vocals, and Gibson, bass) certainly seem to give several fucks about meting out sonic pummelling and raucous, confrontational, high-energy noise. Their seventh full-length, Sonic Citadel, certainly delivers on both counts. 

Opening track ‘Blow To The Head’ is aptly named, a sudden burst of chaotic, haphazard drums and a bass line revving like a heavy diesel engine failing to start. Locking into a rabid, rapid straight-line charge, Chippendale’s yelped vocals ascend and descend, heavily furred with fuzz. Gibson’s bass buzzsaws like a mosquito stuck in a soup can, keeping up with the track’s unstoppable, pogoing energy that swiftly descends into skittering, jazzy drum fulls and lowing bass groans. ‘USA Is A Psycho’ pulses with snare heavy drums that skip over screeching, distorted noise. Dropping into a grinding, glowering bass loop that picks up into an irresistible loping groove, the track breaks apart, ending with a looping vocal glitch. ‘Air Conditioning’ asserts itself with big, bold bass chords and groove-laden cymbals, kick drum locked inseparably into the bass line. It’s barely controlled chaos, forcing the listener to wait tensely for it to fly off the handle at any given moment.

‘Hüsker Dön’t’ (ha, see what they did there?) trills with manic bass, roiling with a big bombastic drive that knuckles down into an unsettling straight riff backed by thumping toms. It’s constant throughout, Chippendale barking away about dinosaurs as the track zaps and zings before disintegrating, layer by layer, leaving a wake of rippling drum fills and squelchy noise. Sliding and shifting ‘Big Banger’ settles into a leftfield groove that suddenly gallops away. Blowing out into a tribal, tom-heavy section and doomy, tolling bass notes, there’s a false ending before exorcising Chippendale’s inner muppet with some inhuman drumming. 

Elsewhere, Don Henley In the Park’ phases and jangles, twanging away like the score to a medieval banquet; the gentle, lilting, coughs of vocals at odds with the poppy, upbeat drumming, building into a towering wall of noise.‘Tom Thump’ does just that, tub thumping drums laying out a path for savage, swinging bass fuzz to carve in, ascending in a massive solo before petering into fuzz. ‘Bouncy House’ scampers and rattles before kicking into high-tempo, almost break-beat, ballsy drumming enforcing a groove. The rapid basslines come off like methamphetamine soaked blues, dizzying, lurching rhythms sounding like some kind of remix of The Prodigy. A rollercoaster of riffing. Meanwhile, closing track ‘Van Halen 2049’ is classic Lightning Bolt anarchy, rolling with manic, frantic energy. Breaking into a swarm of mechanical hornets, buzzing and droning, it’s a hypnotic swirl of jagged noise, shaking itself apart into distant shouts, suffused with ungodly, unstoppable energy. 

Like their guerrilla, venue defying live shows, Sonic Citadel is a physical, close-proximity mind-fuck; an energy-sapping, physically exhausting tour-de-sonic-force. Arguably, eleven tracks may skew too long – does the eighth chain-mail be-gloved slap sting as much as the first? For your own safety and sanity, the sheer length of this record may force you to bite it off in manageable chunks, lest you be rendered insensible. But persist, and you’ll find it an engaging, baffling, uplifting, energising listen, underlining Lighting Bolt’s twenty-five year point that you don’t need nine band members and a shitload of gear to build something beautiful.  

Sonic Citadel is out now and can be purchased here.

Words: Jay Hampshire