Crate-Digging: Wolf Eyes – Dead Hills

Happy Halloween!

(Troubleman Unlimited, 2002)

I could imagine the faint of heart getting physically sick while listening to Wolf Eyes, and Dead Hills specifically. I’ve noted that this EP, their first on a larger-than-basement-label in Troubleman Unlimited, is possibly the easiest access point to the band’s discography, and to electronic noise terrorism in general, and I stand by that. It’s not terribly long – three songs clock in at close to twenty-five minutes – and in tone it veers closely to cinematic soundtrack territory, in particular graphic horror films. How much do the Saw and Hostel franchises gross? That’s the audience, however willing or unwilling Wolf Eyes would be to admit, that should gravitate toward records like these. I’m sure it’s a pretty diverse bunch. And whether or not mainstream consumers would really go for Wolf Eyes is probably a futile question, as American teens and adults alike almost certainly bolt from the latest Rob Zombie slashfest at their local theater to crank Beyonce and Bieber on their car stereos. Perhaps I’m being too cynical. I should probably regroup.

What better way to ring in Halloween, I say, than with Dead Hills by Wolf Eyes?

Speaking of the faint of heart – and if there are truly any of you left – perhaps the reason a corporal reaction to this music is so unsurprising is because the performers themselves embody it with such physicality. The trio of Nate Young, Aaron Dilloway, and John Olson do nothing if not through violent deconstruction – of their instruments, in particular, disemboweling them and reaping extreme tonal reward for extreme physical effort. As such, synthesizers, pedals, guitars, and other random electronic devices yield unearthly and yet strangely familiar sounds when ripped apart and manipulated. And the fact that the vocals are not so much, er, vocalized as vomited, grunted, moaned, growled, spewed, and heaved adds a disturbing layer to what is already a disturbing concoction. Therefore, each of the three tracks on Dead Hills plays like a sonic narrative in gore, each pulse and stab and throb a grisly slash of horrific sound maximized for nightmares. And yes, all this is held in check, somewhat, and punctuated by periods of near silence, where evil lurks and is subsequently unleashed. Yes. Shudder.

“Dead Hills” itself is more sound collage than song, as zombified electronics scrape the track into existence, shuffling mindlessly along its titular country landscape under queasy gray skies. Over the course of its eleven minutes, rats, bats, worms, insects, and spiders skitter and squeal, and tortured shrieks emanate from unseen shacks or under secret barrows. The atmosphere lies somewhere between the creeping dread of Silent Hill and the promise of a slow, painful death at the hands of the Firefly family. By the end, the scrapes return, and there’s nothing but a hollowness as the undead continue their cycle of hunger/kill/feed/hunger.

“Dead Hills 2” and “Rotten Tropics” follow, and neither is quite as abstract as the title track – each resembles the other more than what preceded. In both, a sparse, plodding beat introduces what will only turn into complete horror as the songs progress. “Dead Hills 2” is the main offender, and it is, in my opinion, the sheerest musical approximation of terror that I’ve ever encountered. It truly is like a horror film in slow motion, and you cannot look away. As the listener, you’re rooted to one spot as the plod gets closer, electronics squeal, and a demon voice invokes utter pain in its indecipherable moan, although I’m not sure whether it’s the deliverer or recipient of said pain. By the time it starts wailing and shrieking, I’m pretty sure it’s both. It’s guttural and legion, calling to mind unnamable beasts and unspeakable evil. It’s almost upon you and you’re helpless! There is no God to save you! (“Rotten Tropics” is pretty awesome too, but man, “Dead Hills 2” steals the show.)

I tried to play “Dead Hills 2” at a Halloween party once, and that’s when I realized that “Wolf Eyes” and “party” do not good bedfellows make – the audience wants the “Monster Mash,” not monsters literally mashing you to bits. I know, right? It’s Halloween! You’ll have to settle then, perhaps, to spin this nasty little record once the revelers have tuckered themselves out and headed home – music to get you in the mood for what lurks in the shadows when it’s all over. Maybe some of the party guests who left alone were picked off on the way home. Maybe they almost got there, fumbled for the keys in their pocket, and were accosted, to be heard from only in whispers and possibly through the odd clue turning up. Whatever happened, though, you can be safe in the knowledge that you’re prepared – Dead Hills is a talisman, and the bad stuff only happens to other people. Right?

RIYL: Throbbing Gristle, Hair Police, Liars’ They Were Wrong So We Drowned

“DEAD HILLS (live)”

“ROTTEN TROPICS”

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