December 5, 2014

Jucifer - District of Dystopia

Written by Matt Hinch.

You never really know what to expect from a Jucifer album. L'Autrichienne's cleanliness was a departure from If Thine Enemy Hunger. Throned in Blood got all black metal. The Russian Album brought down the doom. And now District of Dystopia changes things up again. One thing you can count on though is that anything from Jucifer is going to be loud.

If you've seen Jucifer live then you know just how loud they can be. I once couldn't walk a straight line after a show of theirs in a small club and it had nothing to do with the beer. So it is that the primal magic of District of Dystopia crystallizes in the cozy confines of Jucifer's own Winnebago. The devastation that occurs when Thee White Wall is erected on their never ending tour is just as potent, and loud, when played and recorded is such a constricting environment.

Photo by Pedro Roque.

The duo of Gazelle Amber Valentine and Edgar Livengood are nowhere near constricted here though. DoD is just as manic and muscular as anything they've done and possibly more chaotic. Doom and grind ricochet off the cabinets (both kinds) in erratic patterns over the course of 25 filthy minutes.

The stripped down and unpredictable approach makes so much sense though. DoD is a concept album about the District of Columbia, but chronicles hundreds of years of atrocity inflicted by the Americans “in power”. From the first off the Mayflower through to Obama, including Vietnam, Japanese internment camps in WWII, genocides, despicable treatment of Native Americans, military opportunism, Afghanistan and Iraq, ISIS and more all driven by one thing. Greed.

So DoD is kind of a wake up call if not exactly a protest album. Going all punk rock DIY, lo-fi and raw can be seen as a rebellion against “the system”. The expectation of the music industry/government I suppose is clean, civilized and conformist. DoD is dirty, unrefined and individual. Perhaps the inconsistency (in a good way) reflects the non-standard application of foreign policy?

Photo by Pedro Roque.

It's that feral energy that both Amber and Edgar bring to this recording that is its most endearing feature. Amber always pulls out all the stops in the Department of Riff Relations, from massive doom to primitive grind movements to noisy, off-the-wall unorthodoxy. Edgar too is at his brain-bashing best as Ambassador of Aggression changing course as the fluid structures dictate.

Keeping the song lengths down to a little over typical grind length (mostly under 3 minutes) the duo pack in a number of tempo changes as well as shifts in mood. It's done all the time but I'm always amazed at how a percussive change can totally alter the feel of a song from one moment to the next even though the riff stays the same. The inverse is true as well although Edgar is usually the one with the attention issues. His unconventional handling of the instrument is what makes him one of today’s very best drummers. Hands down.

The bond between the two is coiled tight on a musical level which comes as no surprise. However, there are few who can blend chaos, doom, death metal, noise and pure unrestrained energy into 1:56 and not miss a beat as on “Justice” the way they can. They are able to work in synchronicity and in opposition with ease.

Photo by Pedro Roque.

As raw, honest and just plain noisy as District of Dystopia is, grinding at the ears and slicing away any notion of sheen, the lyrics are not to be overlooked. Amber may be dispensing them in a shivering mix of screeches, barks, yowls and growls but on paper their poetic nature shines. Her brutal passion gives the words extra power and the essays she wrote to accompany the release reveal how deeply she feels about the topics discussed.

DoD may sound simple in its musical approach but lyrically it's anything but. It may sound like a couple meth-heads making an unholy racket in an RV but that's what makes it so beautiful. And so Jucifer. They've always done things their own way and this is no exception. It's gnarly, raw, primal, chaotic grinding doom with a little but of whatever thrown in for good measure. Most of all it is ugly. Just like history. Brutality, death and power.
“He who controls the past, controls the future.
And who controls the present, controls the past.”
George Orwell - 1984

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