Lifespan of a Moth

Man, there is just no replacing the classic sludge bands.  Bands like Grief, Negative Reaction, Cavity, Eyehategod, Buzzov*en, Crowbar, Acid Bath, Cable, Green Machine, Noothgrush Kilara, Iron Monkey, Sour Vein, etc. still resonate with me just like they did in the 90s when I first got into all of them; each one had a unique, twisted take on darkness, depression, drugs, demons, damnation, desolation and every other “D-word” I can think of with a highly negative connotation.  GG and Antiseen (the Murder Junkies record, especially), Flipper, Black Flag, Celtic Frost, The Melvins and St. Vitus of course helped set the blueprint for this clinically-insane, institutionalized musical miscreant style that will spend the rest of its life in a group home.  These bands all had an unholy purity…an aural cleansing if you will to their respective sounds that just pound the body like a combo of opiate and alcohol withdrawal.  It’s not for everybody’s constitution but those who get it, really fuckin’ get it.  I get it and it’s a style of music that burrows into my abdomen so deeply as it lays its slimy eggs for internal gestation that I can’t ever seem to get out of me and it hurled me into my own mission of writing my version of this music.

I deliberately left one band out of the mass listing above because their new album is the one currently fighting for its life in court…up on charges again and sure to face some hard time behind bars for assault, Cali’s 16 have been relentlessly active since Relapse scooped them up for their rebirth record Bridges to Burn.  It was a goddamn fine effort that reestablished these young women stealin’ lunatics to their rightful throne made of pills, empty bottles and skateboards.  The follow-up Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds was even better…one of the finest efforts to come out of their sprawling medicine cabinet catalog with Bobby Ferry’s riffing teetering between more complex blasts of pained noise, winding doom/thrash/hardcore passages and some of the heaviest vintage 16 sludge butter churns to date (see closer “Only Photographs Remain” in the evidence room for proof of my case against them).  Cris Jerue’s voice was lower on Deep Cuts and more blown to bits after a car accident that left his voice-box damaged.  His dirtier, more gnarled rasp was born out of necessity and fit the riff rioting to a tee and his lyrics were some of the most ravaged he’s ever penned.  And longtime bassist Tony Baumeister and new drummer Mateo Pinkerton were rhythmically unstoppable as a team.  What a fuckin’ record that was and I was lucky enough to catch them on the tour for it.  Watching them perform was an absolute tempest of the soul.  I stood side stage and not center…Cris is such a nice dude to talk to but him and the gang always carry a threat in their back pockets to the audience.  It felt dangerous…like maybe some of us weren’t comin’ home that night.

The Lifespan of a Moth is the band’s latest LP and the title itself just reeks of devious, dark humor because it’s simply amazing how the band has managed to survive and prevail with multiple line-up collapses, personal human collapses and just about every kind of hardship you can imagine.  Keeping with tradition, Lifespan continues to enforce the element of 16’s societal instability.  First up, there’s a new rhythm section in town comprised of Barney Firks on bass and Dion Thurman crushin’ the cans.  Consistently having a mass weapons stockpile in the drum/bass department, anyone who joins up with these stalk n’ slashers have big shoes to fill.  Barney and Dion handle these nervous to the point of panic attack tunes with all of the right prescriptions.  A field recording of waves, seagulls and children playing on the beach bad trips opener “Landloper” into a chalkboard scratch of feedback that stacks the deck for a thick n’ meaty but clean bass groove and a driving pulse that sees Dion attacking his kit with stark fills full of precision snare burst fire and punchy tom-tom patterning.  Ferry then tears a ham hock of a riff into pieces with chugging thrash chords covered in a greasy, oily sludge as his weirdo, looping feedback makes for quick, throat puncturing lead bits.  The main progression of the song keeps getting lower and lower to the floor, joining the rats and roaches for a sparse riff crawl set to a suicide snare march.  It climaxes with stop/start, doom-ridden 6-string surgery eventually returning to the track’s main ill theme.  Throughout Cris screams his head-off, “Sever all of your fucking ties and live off the fucking grid,” he seethes with equal parts conviction and chaos.  From front to back this is 16 doing what they do best.

“Peaches, Cream and the Placenta” has an intro like the good ship Hawkwind crash landed into the San Andreas Fault Line and soon thereafter drowned in well-fermented, Mesozoic muck.  Bobby’s phased, cosmic amplifier emanations ration filth to leave room for a detuned bass line that introduces the song’s downward-pointed, resin-scraping riff.  The riff gets on your back like a factory foreman you want to punch square between the eyes after he slowly plays mental Russian roulette with your mind every day until your trigger pulls itself and you snap on the fucker.  In every inch of the atmosphere lingers the pungent stink of their dirtbag beater Blaze of Incompetence, right down to the polluted but decipherable smog-blast vocal shouts (“You poisoned the two of us, you poisoned the universe,” classic Cris right there) and the murderous, mid-tempo punk/thrash breaks which are anchored to agitated, ever-shifting drum fills.  Thurman’s beatings are coated in a sonic complexity/technicality tuned to peak position 16 standards and Firks’ low-end Pap smear tickles the pink purple.  Being somewhat reminiscent and reminding of the band’s own “Asian Heat” on the level they are at in 2016 is a blood clot to savor from these scoundrels of scuzz.

Quickly becoming one of my favorite 16 songs of all-time “The Morphinist” opens the door with a fuzzy, distant stoner riff that soon turns bipolar and breaks all of your fingers with a slam of the door.  Bobby’s Sabbath on ‘ludes chord progressions are unfiltered sludge of the highest pedigree; hopeless, hateful, nihilistic yet somehow oddly catchy.  Jerue’s every word is a building block of an anthem for addicts, the floodgates overflowing into a hook-laden chorus with melodic open guitar chords, very smooth pluckin’ on the bass, militant drum battery and a vocal phrasing that rises into a cathartic roar of drug dependence being “Mind over body” while warning to trust no doctor.  The entire band presents itself as one endless riff sent to eat your soul like dogfood.  Thurman interjects some bubbling vat acid rolls to cue higher-end stoner riff evil that warps into a psychedelic lick and a further tweaking of the leading battery acid drenched, sludge corroded power chords.  I’ve barely had the album a week and I know this one word to word, riff to riff, beat to beat and groove to groove.  It’s a fatal shove off a cliff that only these guys have the balls to pull off.  They bait you, betray you and beat you.  That’s the 16 way when I try to think of what their sound looks like visually in my beaten up head.  I picture an act of violence.

Loaded on ephedrine, coke and meth “The Absolute Center of a Pitch Black Heart” is like a trucker grinding his teeth to dust on heart attack drugs while racing down the highway.  The frantic, urgent tempos are goosed-up with Lemmy, scabby punk/thrash and 16’s own special sperm sauce that draws influence from Slayer but sounds little like ‘em at the same time.  They grind the pace into a snortable powder via a credit card n’ lighter before returning to lecherous, speedfreak nastiness.  Cris’ distortion-baked howls are the sound of a man making his last stand on a water tower with a rifle in hand.  It’s an instrumental workout ala “Bloody Knuckles” where the 80s get thrashed to the gills until some Am-Rep infection grows big sludgy warts on your face that you can’t wait to see pop.  Jerue steps away from the mic on the instruments only “Gallows Humor” which is a special showcase of the fellas’ increasingly heightened sense of nailing a good jam and letting it build.  One sip of the first sludge-steeped riff and you’re instantly blackout drunk.  It climbs, ascends and towers above you while you fall to Earth after your latest bender, Bob’s molten hog fat grooves calling to mind a sickened visage of early Cathedral with venomous Vitus/Sabbath riffs receiving tasteful keyboard support (albeit briefly…though that might be Bobby tripping us out with his pedal board).  Rhythmically, this is a slow flush down the screaming toilet of life with punishing kick drum stomps and haggard left turns that let the grooves sometimes soar into blues riffs instead of sinking into termite-bitten decay.

“Secrets of the Curmudgeon” is a killing spree minded, up-tempo sludge thrasher that hits you with a freight train while you traipse the wrong way down the railroad tracks.  The band is kind enough to stop and bag up your body parts for later molestation.  16 always had a crossover feel that was all their own and just like the rest of the seminal sludge bands, the stamp is unique when you start comparing one to another.  Barney and Dion really shine on this dead skin sucker with the bass lunges mangling their way through walking, fluid progressions that branch off into some tricky, flashy notations whenever Bobby employs a noise lead atop the black-toothed drum fills that are easily some of the most aggressive ever employed on a 16 record.  Another all-time favorite I will cull from this album is the moody, split-personality sneer of “Pastor in a Coma.”  It’s a fuckin’ massive piece of sludge with riffs that show the genre’s true form prior to when a lot of lighter stuff somehow started receiving the categorization.  Really, genre itself…that’s not fucking important, it’s whether you really mean what you play or not and this song’s intent is to maim and run down the fire escape to skip the cops.  One of the heaviest riffs on the disc is right here with throbbing bass lines and cartilage cutting percussive weight wandering off into moldy, clean-chorded melancholy.  That chorus riff is headed for jail and gleefully makes a standoff against a SWAT team while the vocal bile of “Just winding down, like a broken clock, the disorders sink in” becomes the tunes incessant mantra.

The dichotomy and dynamics keep you hanging on as the heft stomps your chest in like a lead boot.  At 3:20 the sorrowfully psychedelic guitars show a real swerve in the band’s style as they are so gracefully enveloped in rushes of righteously sedated, rhythmic opium with any sense of control annihilated in a godless hate-sludge climax.  Shambling, shaking and in full withdrawal that can only be cured with the most intensive riff therapy available, closer “George” is penultimate…a statement of finality…suicide note and all.  This is going to be tough to out muscle in the live-setting with the entire band working up some of their most narcotic grooves and monolithic rhythms of all-time.  Ferry toys with eerie melodic clusterfuck yet again then intersects his softer touches with riffs that could uproot a national forest in a single strum.  Despite the melodious swabs of harmonic guitar to the arm, this motherfucker just shoots you up with riffage till you drop dead.  Somehow, Cris Jerue manages to arrange a very threatening set of lyrics from only George Costanza quotes!  He’s an unabashedly huge Seinfeld fan, so he took his chance to strut it and somehow came up with prose that simply oozes anguish and revenge while placing some of George’s craziest quotes in really strange places.  As a band I still feel 16 are woefully underrated and Cris himself has a way of wit with his words (even when he’s tearing himself up personally in disgust) that’s his own thing that nobody can take away from him.

So, as you can probably tell from the 2,000 words in this review that I’m a fuckin’ 16 nut and that The Lifespan of a Moth really does it for me just like Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds did.  There’s some different juju at work here and even though I’m a 16 diehard I can be very objective about their recordings.  Bridges to Burn was a solid, kick-ass comeback but in places you could tell the band was piecing back together who they were again.  With Deep Cuts they completely found themselves and on Lifespan they’ve cemented this reunion permanently in place while adding some new textures to their sound without losing one drop of spoogy sludge in the ejaculation process.

This is a fuckin’ keeper.  Will it win them new fans?  Probably not too many even though I hope it does.  But I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us diehards will be spinning it for a long fuckin’ eternity to come.  Speaking for this particular diehard, I will certainly save a space for The Lifespan of a Moth near the top of my year-end list.  Eat up sludge brethren!

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
September 16th, 2016


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