Pale Light

I’m not much of a hardcore guy.  Hardcore for me was the old DC shit often associated with Dischord Records.  I still think Lungfish is a “hardcore” band, or more recently Bullets In, so that should illustrate to you just how damn out of touch I am.  Okay, I’m into a few of the early Victory bands, so I guess I’m not totally out in left field alone twiddling my dingy.  Canadian quartet Exalt deliver a quick, focused beating on their sophomore LP Pale Light, and you know what, I’m digging it.  They replace traditional breakdowns with a lot of sludgy, skin grafting riffs and have a similar level of discordance to Bloodlet, Cursed and Gaza which scores ‘em extra points in my book.

Songs go by faster than a lunchbreak blowjob, so there’s little time for fucking around, and even less for the listener to get bored.  The huge, subsonic doom frequencies of guitarists Ben Waugh and John-Paul Denomme on “Death is a Road” are morgue drawer slabs of depressive density that are broken on the wheel by Tim Waugh’s antimatter dirge drumming, and Mitch McEwan’s bowel soldering low grooves.  Ben also handles the vocals, and his roaring, mid-range screams are about as pleasant as a smack on the wrist with a telephone pole.  The track barely sticks around for two minutes, before these deviants light up a keg full of crusty punk with the car wreck whiplash of “Forsaken.”  If you’re familiar with fellow Canadians Cursed you’ll be ready for action; the riffs border punk rock but stay deeply rooted in pounding hardcore, viscous polyrhythms on the toms suffocate any open space with a garrote and plenty of noxious sludge strong enough to choke out a Hazmat team is funneled into your eardrums.  The dueling guitars really shine through the mucky doom in the song’s second half with dual harmonies, and sharp pinch harmonics simultaneously upping the madness quotient.  “Greying” also maintains a crust leveled d-beat, but livens up the dynamic with a down-tempo Unsane meets 16 depth-charge dilemma; topped off with the kind of fluid bass playing you’d hear from a Tony Baumeister or Dave Curran.  The guitar is let to feedback over this segment, and then the whole band enters and rides the riff upwards, ending on a textbook Victory Records’ breakdown chug.

“Deafen” continues the aesthetic of getting hit repeatedly with a washing machine while you’re still rolling around in the dryer.  The guitars intertwine with just the slightest piss stain of melody, but make plenty of time for atonal stops and starts that’ll have you reaching for the Dramamine.  Full-on punk is the order of the day, but there’s some subtle metal licks going on, and the kind of squelching white noise bursts you’d thank Amphetamine Reptile Records for back in the day.  Vocals range from screamed to spoken narration, and a late game guitar lead provides enough tuneful grace to give you proper time to plant your boots for the planet devouring sludge of the track’s gutter bound ending.  The title track toys with expansive Neurosisian textures, but to be honest, I’m not seeing this as strength.  These guys do much better with the batshit than they do the restraint.  It lopes, it cycles well enough and the drumming is louder than God’s farts, yet it feels clinical to a tee.

Thankfully, they return to pissed off speed on the minute n’ change clinic of “Worn as Earth,” a blast beat ballet with plenty of crust on the pie to keep things firmly in the punk realm.  There’s some cool implementations towards the end where Ben and Denomme rip through vastly different guitar parts, and then come together to harmonize on sheer noise.  The comparatively lengthy “Feed” shits out genres faster than newborns fill diapers, beginning in d-beat madness, transitioning midway through to NYC noise-rock’s raw bone, drum n’ bass concrete butchery before finally hallucinating out of the stratosphere in a whirlwind of twiddly noise befitting of Swans or Merzbow or some other crazy nascent drone.  These psychonauts even distort the drums as the song fades into nothingness, creating the kind of musical intensity that’s best experienced while not on drugs.  Maybe a drink to steady the nerves, but watch the substance if you got the headphones on…you might throw the cat through the living room window, put a coffee pot on your head as a hat and generally lose your shit.  The hack up your neighbor drone shenanigans bleed right into, “Palmcarver,” where the vocals and guitars are so amp-scorched and digitally sawed to pieces you won’t be able to put your finger on a tangible element of songwriting.  Still, for visceral effect…these two compositions were carefully placed on the album and achieve the desired reaction.

The remaining songs aren’t shy on vitriol, almost approaching a Relapse level of tech-hardcore mind fry with more defined riffing on, “Old Vein,” and the righteously deranged and dissonant, “Flesh to Ash.”  A bullet of finality is fired by, “Fear is the Hand,” where the blunt huffin’, doom-y riffage returns, and guttural hardcore vocal snarls are dealt from the same deck Sean Ingram is dealing with stark responses provided by higher register shouts.  My senses were shattered by the chilling drop in volume that occurs at the 2:20 mark where the dynamics wash over you like Bloodlet’s creepiest shit circa The Seraphim Fall, but only more demented because these guys tease you with clean vocals, setting up you up for a major trainwreck when they drain all of the sludge from the sewage plant for their own personal audio use.

Other than a singular misstep, this is a rock solid album of heavy hardcore.  The thing that sets this band apart from the pack is the major variations in style, tone and songwriting.  Exalt could play to the popular formula of bandito handkerchiefs, guitars that are swung not played and just general air fighting punch rock, but they come from a much more abrasive mold.  It feels authentic, which is something that’s lacking for me in a lot of modern hardcore…that vibe of meaning it, living it.  I’ll certainly check out their first album based on the strength of this one.   

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
December 2nd, 2014


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