Before Greymachine, Jesu, the Sidewinder, Zonal, Curse of the Golden Vampire, Techno Animal, Ice, God, Godflesh, Napalm Death, Head of David, and the myriad one-offs the man has to his name, Justin K. Broadrick had Final. Allegedly formed in 1982 when Broadrick was in his teens, Final apparently started with some post-punk and industrial leanings, gravitated towards power electronics, and eventually settled on the glacial sonic terrain that has been heard from the project in all of its more widely distributed releases since the mid 1990s.
That sound has always seemed like the yin to the yang of the rest of Broadrick’s work. When Robert Hampson split from the feedback-laden scowl of Loop to go solo in Main, he began to explore the interspaces of the fuzz via dubby extractions before eventually going completely anorexic, emaciating his sound until even the skeleton was brittle, dusty, and visible only through foggy observation windows. Broadrick’s projects were even louder than Hampson’s Loop, so it would make sense for his polarities to be even wider. His work in the un-Googleable Final (see also Earth, Lull, Sleep, Main, Loop, etc.) does occasionally verge on the narcoleptic, but it never fully evaporates as much as one might expect from a project whose name indicates the terminal destination of sonic exploration.
What’s more, Final’s latest, Reading All the Right Signals Wrong, boasts little surprise, despite its title. Perhaps it’s the album’s focus on the guitar, though the guitar’s centrality is deceptive. Deep amped-out drones persist at the core of each of the album’s tracks, but changes happen above, underneath, around, and outside those lingering chords. The drones are the unavoidable sound, the inescapable setting, but it’s what’s extrinsic to that sparse musicality that’s interesting in these pieces. Many of the brighter pieces seem like the afterbirth to Jesu’s stoner shoegaze-metal dirges, a persistent hemophilic overtone to the euphoric violence of the latter band’s sonic assault.
There’s a practically horrifying stillness in opener “Right Signal” that permeates into the listener and assimilates him or her into the sound’s solar panel grid, thereby eviscerating him or her, and diffusely scattering the particles about. At the eight-minute mark, the Arcadian scenery gets unsettlingly placid, like Crystal Lake without the skinny-dipping teenagers. The distortion at the commencement of “Wrong Signal” is muffled, like an overblown speaker playing a recording of a death metal concert years into the future, its archival memory barely emergent amidst the haze of unintentional discord weathering the mix. Its wrongness has more to do with interference than the tone itself. Occasionally (and only eventually) glorious and harmonious, the track lingers on past the ten-minute mark with little concern for the usual constraints of the listening public (not that anybody usual will likely be listening to this album).
There’s a nagging quality about tracks like “Right Signal (alt. mix/edit)” even as its drift catches upon ethereal synths towards the end of its journey. Yet, this is also probably the point. Final is all about patience and, at times, it can require much of it. It’s hard to deny the sweet burn of the varying textures, but they are ones the likes of James Plotkin, et al., as well as Broadrick himself, conquered years back.
Drone music is supposed to have no future. It is purposely and purposefully stuck. So, perhaps the weariness this reviewer has shown towards the material presented here, which, from the stuck-inside-a-bell-at-the-4AD-chapel “Green” to the hellish Caretaker-esque graveyard of “Wrong Signal (alt. mix/edit)”, is often quite good, reflects more my own personal prejudices and frustrations with the genre than any specific fault of the music itself. With four alternate mixes of each of the original vinyl’s four songs included, Broadrick seems to have read the signals twice and they still feel slightly wrong. Yet, there’s a quality about Reading All the Right Signals Wrong that begs to transcend its boundaries, rather than be defined by them. With the man’s massive outpouring though, it’s hard to believe this will be the final thing we hear from Final.
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