By Justin C. When I first saw the cover for Planning for Burial's new album, Below the House, I immediately said, "That's Pennsylvania." There was probably a brief spike in my blood pressure, maybe the beginnings of a fight-or-flight reaction. I'm probably no different than anyone who grew up in a place where they never felt they belonged and fled as soon as possibleBy Justin C.
When I first saw the cover for Planning for Burial's new album, Below the House, I immediately said, "That's Pennsylvania." There was probably a brief spike in my blood pressure, maybe the beginnings of a fight-or-flight reaction. I'm probably no different than anyone who grew up in a place where they never felt they belonged and fled as soon as possible, but the muted color palette and sense of gloom conveyed by that cover art is how most of my childhood memories from Pennsylvania look. Thom Wasluck, the man behind Planning for Burial, moved back to his childhood home to record Below the House, and when asked in an interview at CLRVYNT what moving back to Pennsylvania was like, he said, "Pretty awful. [Laughs]" You can read that interview for more insight into what it was like moving back and recording there, but given that "gloom" finds its way into most genre descriptions of Planning for Burial's work, you'll quickly figure out where you are on the emotional spectrum without the background story.
For our purposes, this is probably more of a metal-adjacent(tm) album review, although it fits in well with The Flenser’s catalog. There's harshness here, and if you were to listen to the opener, "Whiskey and Wine," with its heavy, Jesu-like undercurrent and black metal-like vocals, you might go in expecting a more metal album than what you're actually going to get. Sure, the third track, "Somewhere in the Evening" comes back in with that molten bottom end, and there are some shrieks buried deep in the mix, but the clean vocals on top make this feel like a conflict between listlessness and rage instead of a full-on barn burner.
More than anything, this is often sparse, vulnerable music. "Threadbare" accurately describes the music it contains. The vocals are clean, the music is at times minimal and stark, although there's also a warmth to it, as hard as it may be to pick out at times. There's a bit more fire to Below the House than Planning for Burial's last album, Desideratum, but the heaviness comes from mood, not volume. "Dull Knife, Part 1" might sound like heavier shoegaze or slowcore, but "Part II" is a singular-minded, almost plodding tune that builds so subtly that you might not even notice. The plaintive, repeated line, "Call me back home / calling me back," is damn near heart-breaking, even when additional guest voices join Wasluck.
I found this album difficult to listen to, but not because of rapid-fire time changes or overwhelming dissonances. This music is difficult because it cuts to your core if you let it in, and it taxes you emotionally. As I mentioned up top, I think this album carries a little more weight for me because Wasluck and I share Pennsylvania as the setting of perhaps not the most fun times, but beauty can still come from that. As the only lyrics for "Dull Knife, Part I" say, "This is the place I live / But it's not my home / This is the place I live / My roots don't grow." Get into this gloom and let it change you, and maybe even free you.