February 20, 2016

Kowloon Walled City - Grievances

Written by Matt Hinch.

Kowloon Walled City landed on my radar back in 2013 with Container Ships. I was floored and pretty much said as much when I reviewed it. The heavy-ass sludge played right into my wheelhouse. Fast forward to 2015 and the California quartet put me right through that floor, through the mailroom into a dank, lonely subbasement of despair with their Neurot debut, Grievances.

Centered upon “our complex relationships with work and the power our employment – and employers – have over us” the lyrical content has the ability to really connect with the listener. Grievances are part of our workaday lives and KWC capture all that frustration and yearning through an avalanche of soul-crushing tone, monstrous riffs, torn-flesh guitars and vocalist/guitarist Scott Evans' vocal laments.

There's a lyric on “Backlit” that sums up the general tone and feeling of Grievances: “You walk in defeated.” Unless you're one of the fortunate souls that finds their job a source of utter joy, feeling defeated before the day even starts is a reality. The album grabs hold of that and holds you down for the duration. It's hard to crawl out from under the ponderous rumble of their downtuned and plodding sludge, especially that of Ian Miller's sickening bass.

Pain and desperation percolate through the album, saturating the listener. Few albums are able to induce such feelings so wholly no matter what the circumstances. When Jon Howell's guitar bends and wails under unendurable stress, the bass groans like a Monday morning wakeup call and the castigating drums of Jeff Fagundes force you into submission, the urge to curl up and die is nearly overwhelming.

Evans' often frustrated yelling speaks with a voice reserved for solitary catharsis. That of bloodletting laments we direct at closets, pillows or random fellow commuters that can't hear our misery over the white noise of their own existence. It's an every-man voice.

Yet the listener can't approach Grievances from a completely negative perspective. Sure there's more than enough nastiness and melancholia to label the album depressive but one has to look deeper, listen harder and think.

There are melodies there, rays of sunshine that reflect hope and the good things in life. No matter how much working life drains the psyche, or KWC's oozing sustain and precipitous drops into despair turn you into a pile of liquid flesh and tears, there's always something to look forward to. By sewing up the cracks caused by their interminable crush with careening chord changes and deceptively bright melodies, KWC bring together an accurate picture of life's conflict as many experience it. It strikes a balance, not always equal, but a balance between a desire for escape and its realization however brief or fleeting.

Few albums in 2015 were as affecting as Grievances. The artful take on “post-sludge” sinks deep into your core. It will drag you down in the low times and help you when it's time to soldier on. Air your grievances. Let the heaving riffs, screaming guitars, vocal pain and bludgeoning percussion give you the strength to keep going. Grievances is a terrific album for rattling your cage but also gives you the tools to escape.

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