By working with talented artist Ibay Arifin Suradi since 2016’s Ruins, US sludge outfit Body Void have crafted a strong visual identity that serves to bolster the themes embedded in their corrosive music. On 2018’s incomparable I Live Inside A Burning House, the cover shows a human adrift in an infinite universe, their face melting into the abyss as geometric lines reach out from the stars and run through the body before distorting, suggesting both order and chaos. It’s a stark reflection of the record’s themes, which grappled with mental illness, gender dysphoria and trauma. New album Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth depicts something on the surface more hopeful – a deer with leaved branches for antlers, seemingly mid-transformation. And yet we know that the Earth’s current trajectory is not exactly a positive one, with impending climate catastrophe and the inevitable destruction of the natural world. Such all-consuming threats seem to tick along in the background whilst we’re forced to deal with other pressing issues, be it the inequality that’s rife in society, capitalism refusing to relent or a creeping trend towards authoritarian and fascist ideologies in governments around the world.
In the face of such chaos and strife, it would be easy to give in to unbridled nihilism, as plenty of sludge bands have over the years, but Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth shows a band who refuse to give up. When the opening line of first track ‘Wound’ states, “The land is wounded / Drenched in blood” the effect given is not one of pessimism but of realism. The world is not in a good place, there’s no use in hiding that, or in burying your head beneath the sand and looking out only for yourself. The track’s lyrics make it clear that the fault lies with capitalist greed, and the weighty riffs, bolstered by earthy feedback, seem to imitate the planet itself as the track’s conclusion speaks on nature’s behalf, warning of the wound spreading to engulf us all.
The band tread this bleak thematic territory without remorse, their trademark sound of formidable sludge flanked by serrated blackened edges sounding more ruthless than ever. As such, it’s perhaps their most cathartic release to date, not so much confronting you with its themes as it is holding your face down in the grimy reality of them. Now three albums in, the band have perfected their core sound. Willow Ryan’s biting vocals are more visceral than ever, whilst their riffs churn with all the grace of rusted machinery caked in dried blood and matted hair. Meanwhile Eddy Holgerson’s drums keep the tracks trudging forwards, occasionally taking on an almost industrial tone, but always ready to make the instant switch to furious blastbeats.
That’s not to say there isn’t some sonic progression here, either. Despite typically elongated song-lengths dominated by laborious riffs, these compositions largely sound more erratic and thus less predictable than ever. Each and every groove seems to distort just as it’s finding its rhythm, disintegrating into a wall of harsh noise or a bitter pang of feedback just as the momentum seems to swell to breaking point.
On ‘Laying Down In A Forest Fire’, a song that seems to hone its focus in on world leaders and corporate executives who turn their back on the environment whilst knowingly contributing to its destruction (though the title also seems to gnaw at that sense of trying to find some comfort in a world so intent on making you feel anxious), the track builds and builds without settling into a core rhythm. It’s an impressive microcosm of just how dynamic and multifaceted this album can be, drifting from noise-ridden sludge and atmospheric doom into tense tremolos and then into death-doom and blackened sludge, before the track makes its final assault by launching into a steamrolling groove that soon becomes a driving percussive frenzy.
‘Fawn’ showcases the band at their sludgy best, kicking off with slow gargantuan riffs that hammer down like waves. It is ‘Pale Man’ that impresses most of all though. The name is perhaps a nod to the child-eating monster of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labryinth, a creature written to represent institutional evil feeding on the helpless – fitting for a track detailing the horrific greed of colonialism. It features perhaps the band’s finest slow-build to an intense crescendo yet, gradually introducing more and more oppressive static until your speakers feel ready to burst, before all the tension comes barrelling out in one of the most cathartic sequences of music you’ll ever hear. It’s almost comforting when the track finally reverts back to laboured doom for its closing minutes.
The message is never lost, though – the final cry is “Tie him up / Hang him low / Wash him out / Unroot his design”. As Divide And Dissolve expressed so powerfully earlier this year on the phenomenal Gas Lit, we need to dismantle the white supremacist frameworks upon which Western society is built. Like many of their sludge forerunners, Body Void could easily have resorted to all-out despair, but whilst Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth is dark, brooding and intensely aware of just how fucked the planet is, it’s still using its final breath to inspire action.
Words: George Parr