Survive is something that grabs you in a fit of rage, pleads and pours out its heart. It WILL make you understand! Its grip does not ease, you can taste its tears and sweat and blood. Finally it lets you go and vanishes into the dark. That is how this record works.
It is like all my favourite heavy music – it’s not just angry, not just pissed off, but genuinely on the edge of sanity. As someone reluctantly approaching 40 and having listened to heavy music since a teenager this record has a lot of similarities with the nasty hardcore, crust punk, sludge and screamo bands I grew up worshipping. For example, when I first heard early Eyehategod it gave me the same feeling of a sickness within that has to be purged.
There’s dirt under the fingernails of this release, from trying to climb out of that hole that you can never quite get out of. Although, unlike other sludge and crust bands discussed below, the horror here is tinged with some amount of hope, in no small part down to the more melodic injections to the overall grimness, utilising emo and post-rock in contrast to doomier elements.
Diving into this gem of a record, ‘Cowards’ opens loudly and with ferocious intensity sounding like the beginning of Botch‘s We Are The Romans, then breaks down to a slower riff where the vocals go between a full on scream and something more akin to a shout. Indeed one of Aerosol Jesus’ strongest elements is Oli Melville’s vocal agility, and early on he expresses a Dystopia-like anguish, already imbuing the music with a certain type of disquiet. Those mathcore Botch vibes are enforced with something akin to the Cave In metallic screamo classic Beyond Hyperthermia, churning through a slightly off-kilter rhythm towards its conclusion.
The eponymous second track ‘Survive’ begins more ponderously, with a slow fuzzy riff played with only accompanying feedback. It’s like a sonic breath of calm, after the kinetic energy of the first track, that builds in its menace when the other instrumentation comes in. This is where the spoken word vocals, so memorable from their debut EP Failure, are introduced on Survive. For me, this sounds like an unusual combination of Envy and Arab Strap, and that’s no bad thing at all. Some of the phrasing and intensity of the vocals evokes a Scottish Listener, the climbing desperation in Melville’s voice again reminiscent of Dystopia, specifically ‘Stress Builds Character’. The lyrics themselves, concerning the fear of a disconnect with meaningful existence, continues this parallel. As the music builds to a crescendo, the gravity of Isis or Cult Of Luna suggests itself in dense waves under the emotive cries. A sudden tempo change and genre shift kicks in with an upbeat screamo riff, channelling the emotional intensity in another, no less effective direction. This develops into something discordant and abrasive mostly reminding me of Bless The Martyr Kiss the Child era Norma Jean, but you could also see a The Dillinger Escape Plan influence there too.
The next track, ‘Others’, may be the most diverse and original sounding on the record. Beginning again with a low key atmospheric introduction, the accompanying vocals that ooze forth are gruff and lilting. Once again very indicative of Aiden Moffatt from Arab Strap and I like to think that was intentional as Moffatt’s low drawling lyrics often concern the theme of alcohol use and abuse which is also what this song is about. Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, even Shane MacGowan could be conjured into being here, wonderfully unexpectedly for this sort of music. A more generically obvious comparison would be Steve Von Till and Scott Kelly in Neurosis who have the grit and gravitas, certainly the music is similar with its foreboding bassline and washes of noise, building to a heavy expansiveness. The vocals continue to elevate the tension and the now familiar desperation is soaked in every pleading scream – gone is that early whispering restraint. The beginning of the cycle resets and creeps up to a pause then a crunching fuzz bass heralding a broken, pounding, deconstructed sludge riff in the vein of Coalesce. It finally leads to a slowly chugging Neurosis-drenched conclusion punctuated by a final guttural screaming exclamation mark.
Penultimately, ‘Just’ is another song that begins quietly, this time with crystalline twinkling reverbed guitar like the jazz-tinged post-metal early work of Toby Driver and Mare. Once again the spoken word style floats in on a wave of disquiet, low and gruff and pensive. I get the feeling this is the track where Melville is most mentally exposed and vulnerable. There is a sense of real catharsis going on throughout this record but for me, as a fellow vocalist and mental health sufferer, it cuts the deepest. Once again the theme reminds me of Arab Strap, most notably ‘Monday At The Hug & Pint’, where very similar demons are stared at unflinchingly and affectingly. On more than one occasion ‘Just’ has given me a lump in my throat and a tear in the eye, so much can I identify. Musically there is a sympathetic orchestration of noise, a discordant rise of pitch reflecting the mental disharmony that escalates in volume until it envelopes the vocals and pulls it down under its waves, to crash and crumble, until…
‘Drown’ begins with a scream resurfacing and pulling you out of the mire into a new heavy iteration of despair; a beautiful post-rock soundscape towers forth. It meets with a colossal metallic sludge riff to herald the guest vocals of Tanya from Bismuth, whose scream marries well with Melville’s as they exchange lines. The next part goes from Neurosis to Khanate and becomes a wall of bass-heavy dirge with screams ripping through it, replaced with another Envy-esque melodic twinkling emocore section with the softness of spoken word, a contrast to the previous crushing brutality. And it is with this that the EP ends buoyed on a parting sentiment of optimism as those distinctive vocals conclude that “If I could reason with myself, hold myself to a higher standard, I could begin to live and not just survive”.
Survive creates a high water mark for the 2020s and UK heaviness, showing the flexibility extreme music can have with an unusual but refreshing blend of styles. Continuing from a fantastic starting point on their first EP, Survive is an exceptional piece of work from a band who are emotionally bold and musically both intelligent and agile.
Survive is out now via Sludgelord Records and can be ordered here.
Words: James Thomas