Corrections House
Last City Zero

Last year Scott Kelly, founder of the highly influential experimental metal band Neurosis, stated that the supergroup he was involved in with several other metal luminaries, Shrinebuilder, would probably never convene again. Sad as I was at this, the subsequent announcement of his partaking in another side project, entitled Corrections House and containing Sanford Parker, Mike Williams and Bruce Lamont, was some consolation. Despite the releasing of an E.P entitled Hoax the System earlier the year and the full length discussed here, Last City Zero, all four members have been tight-lipped about their involvement in the project, leaving much open to guesswork and interpretation.

Upon examining the CD sleeve of Last City Zero these words stood out for me – “lyrical themes taken from and inspired by “Cancer as a Social Activity” by Mike Williams”. This collection of bizarre, caustic and bitter Bukowski/Burrows inspired ramblings was released in 2005 and is now out of print, fetching prices of over $100 a copy. I bought this book at the time of release and marvelled at its words, and the prospect of seeing them come to life in musical form excited me greatly. Indeed, the E.P. Hoax the System had already shown the great promise of the band. The auspicious combination of Williams’s prophet of doom sermons, Kelly’s trademark scything guitar work, and the unpredictable inventiveness of fellow audio abusers Parker and Lamont meant that the anticipation was at fever pitch when I pressed play for the first time.

The band set their stall out with the opener ‘Serve or Survive’, beginning with a typically simple but effective Scott Kelly riff and a softly sung passage. This explodes into a flurry of electronics courtesy of Parker and a vocal tradeoff between Lamont and Williams, the whole band in full flow. The riffage on the record isn’t exactly something you’ve heard before (and in the case of the title track, directly taken from ‘Figures’ on his 2008 solo album, The Wake), but still does a stellar job at piecing the music together. A great start to the record – and a fair indicator of what follows.

When Corrections House hit the spot, they really, really hit it. ‘Dirt Poor and Mentally Ill’ is a pulvarising, to-the-throat post-industrial attack, with Williams most iconic of rants, and the album closer, ‘Drapes Hung by Jesus’ is about as apocalyptic and terrifying as metal gets. Beginning with a funeral sludge-trude lasting for a good few minutes which matches Godflesh for mechanical grimness, the song climaxes amazingly. We get to hear the first and only of Scott Kelly’s atavistic roars, backed by terrifying, transcendental sax and synth, and then Williams comes in and finishes the job off.

The weak point of the album is what could probably pass for a ballad, ‘Run Through the Night’. The vocals and guitar work fail to inspire, and it is telling of how great Williams’s contribution is that the one track where he doesn’t feature is also the most anonymous. Indeed, the Eyehategod frontman is probably the star of the show here. Alternating between spoken word and a cut-throat howl (actually intelligible, unlike his vocals with his main band), his words evoke ambiguous images of destruction and deprivation, being an ideal spearhead for the attack of the rest of the band.

Bruce Lamont is the least known of all musicians here, his band Yakuza being confined to lesser heights that his fellow musicians projects. His saxophone work in ‘Hallows of the Stream’ and ‘Drapes Hung by Jesus’ is excellent – subtle, atmospheric and devastatingly effective, moving beyond simple drone work at times, it really brings out another flavour to and is just another small  piece to the jigsaw that is the sound of Corrections House.

Surprisingly for me, given Sanford Parker’s amazing track record of producing and mixing albums (the best example surely being Run Thick in the Night by U.S. Christmas), Last City Zero sometimes sounds on the wrong side of claustrophobic. The programmed drums are mostly excellent, but at times, such as ‘Bullets and Graves’, the sound is underwhelming and disappointing.

The obvious question with so-called supergroups is whether the members can step out of the shadows of their main band and create their own collective identity. Despite the few ordinary moments that are on the album, there is no doubt that Corrections House manage to achieve this. Last City Zero is one of the most compelling releases of 2013, worth a listen for all fans of ambitious, aggressive and heavy music.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jack Taylor
December 3rd, 2013

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