Fell to Low
Low in the Dust

With the shrapnel of a crushing drum beat kicking off the record and then immediately veering off the side of a mountain into a piercing, minor key guitar drone that lasts for nearly 45 breathless seconds (all music is usurped by said drone), it’s beyond a shadow of a doubt that California quintet Fell to Low (with members of Nails and Minus) are going to take you on a real head fuck hayride.  After a string of singles and one-off releases, the band debut with their first full-length album Low in the Dust; a cinematic, bleak noir of hardcore, noise-rock and Slint like soft abrasiveness.  It’s a hopelessly haunted record with bleary-eyed quiet passages going on a King Kong rampage of scathing psycho chords, progg-y off-time rhythmic shifts and angular deviance of the obtuse variety.

The aforementioned opening track “Galore” has more tricks up its sleeve than a chameleon surgically grafted to a master magician.  Trippy, ascending spires of jagged noise beauty (in the vein of My Blood Valentine, Slint and Fugazi) roar into hardcore riffs so smashed to pieces that any fan of Am-Rep and Touch n’ Go bands will silently nod their heads in approval.  The 6 strings start picking up steam into ragged, deconstructed punk-burnt grooves before jarringly jamming the brakes into surgically precise yet somber guitar melodies and spoken word vocals.  The next thing you know they drive a railroad spike of disgusting doom into your chest while the singing says fuck it and turns into revolving, higher-end screams.  By sheer sonic change-ups and curveballs alone, I swear I’m listening to a King Crimson record run through Today is the Day’s Willpower while someone is simultaneously playing Red Medicine and Spiderland in the room across the hall.  I dunno man, I’m not smart enough to figure this shit out but it’s really fuckin’ good stuff.

“Urizen” has a more urgent pacing right from the get go as the corpse of punk gets a eulogy full of broken glass in the face.  The tempo of the riffs, vehemently shouted vocals, fat bass lines and storming snare fills all reckon of the genre, but something has gone horribly awry in the chemlab and now we’ve got a genetic mutation on our hands.  This tune’s got all the catchiness of a good circle pit workout that’s for damn sure.  These sickos continue to play with feedback, practically weaving it into the fabric as another instrument; the guitars themselves consistently relying on ear-bleeding tonalities that’ll have you crawling by the time the sheer mental overload finishes whittling your constitution into scattered particles.  All throughout glimmers of melodic hope give the slightest hint of salvation before succumbing to a smokestack of New York City, noise-rock fog pumped in from the nearest factory district.

The jittery, interwoven strums of “Mapmaker” continue straddling the fence between serenity and depravity, while reigning themselves in enough to let the rhythm section take center stage with a weighted groove.  Once a little semblance of song-structure grabs hold, the guitars drop layer after layer of melodic texture atop the gritty instrumental jam.  Hardly an atypical piece, there is a definite rock foundation holding things together here, even if you gotta get the magnifying glass to find it.  It’s worth looking for though.  From 3 minutes onward, things get screaming mad and the band rides this doozy of a riff up n’ down and all around.

A revolving melody oscillation calls to mind Shiner and Unwound in the early moments of “Boundary;” the plunging bass lines lifting up the ever-circling guitars into cloudy melodies that alternate clear skies with endless downpours.  At 9 minutes in length you’d think they’d run the risk of running short on ideas.  Surprisingly, that never happens as every couple of seconds the song shifts position like a mirage on the run; spoken word segments splay across stuttered hardcore riffs, downtrodden doom-y weight takes off into punk agility, a sparsely noted drone gets a new lease on life thanks to the commentary from the second guitar, the drummer drills home cycling polyrhythm complexity and the vocals adopt a calm/shouted duality…  Shit son, there is a lot going on and none of it lends itself to easy description.

Clocking in at 13:01, “Truman” bases an entire track on a main melody that consists of only a few notes.  Again, they gamble their pot and come up with another winner by adding a few noticeable volume swells, atmospheric doubling on the second guitar, subtle beat variations, hydra-headed vocal interplay and a low-end presence that holds everything together.  This piece is all about the subtlety, doing a helluva lot with very little.  It’s worth hanging in till the end for a vicious volley of steamroller riffs and some aggravated noise freakouts that’ll peel you like a human potato, thusly resulting in a display of tension and release where the pay-off truly equals the lengthy build.

Closer “Saturn” is both the most aggressive and peaceful cut on the record…it’s over 12 minutes long and I noticed something different every time I let it play to the end.  Skin-bleached dives into gentle texture-work in the second half feel like implausibility after the first 5 minutes dredge your cranium dry with sharply hooked noise-rock, atonal hardcore hatred and drop on a dime stylistic bends.  Even when the nice guy stuff is the focus, it unfolds in a threatening, doom-begotten trudge that opens into tranquil tributaries of watery post-grandeur.Low in the Dust gives the emotional threshold a limit testing workout and ends up sounding quite unlike anything else I’ve heard in the genre.  It’s happy, sad, ugly, pissed off, lustful, loving, restrained, violent and so much more all in the same breath.

Fell to Low are a technically challenging band; determined to destroy short attention spans with a songwriting ethic that makes you take the ride or else.  They sure as hell aren’t for everyone but I for sure loved this one.  You might too, so definitely give them a dedicated, locked on ear.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Jay S
September 28th, 2015

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