It was a strange night at Peter’s Room in Portland, Oregon, on the night of December 14th, 2012. The mighty Sunn 0))) had returned once again to the City of Roses, and in tow the drone duo brought their Southern Lord labelmates Fontanelle, Loincloth, and Dead in the Dirt. The genres represented in that amp-rumbling show—drone doom, power metal, grindcore, and fusion jazz—made for an eclectic concert unlike anything anyone in the audience had likely seen or will ever see, even considering diverse festivals like the ubiquitous Roadburn. Fontanelle opened the show with its groovy, Miles Davis-indebted jams. Loincloth followed with a slab of power chord worshipping instrumentals. (Suffice it to say the title of the band’s newest LP, Iron Balls of Steel, is fittingly masculine.) Then, before Sunn 0))) flooded the small, crowded room with dense fog and typhoons of sonic waves, Dead in the Dirt, a young grindcore outfit hailing from Atlanta took to the stage. As the vilest of the sonic malefactors that evening, Dead in the Dirt stood out, though not in a good way; from the shoddy vocal mixing to the murky guitar riffs, the supposedly visceral punch of the band’s music, as heard on EPs like Void and Fear fell flat.
Fast-forward a half a year later to August 2013, and the Dead in the Dirt responsible for The Blind Hole sounds nothing like the music awkwardly sandwiched between riff metal and lugubrious drone on that chilly Portland night. Southern Lord’s recent history of inundating the metalsphere with crust/d-beat groups at an alarming rate has meant that, as it often happens, a huge influx in quanity led to a decrease in quality. The grindcore trio Dead in the Dirt is the latest addition to this busy roster, but while this is brutal, filthy, and jagged in all the ways the world has come to expect of Southern Lord, it’s several cuts above its peers, a considerable feat given this is really only the beginning of things. The unpleasantness of the title The Blind Hole—along with the LP’s Monoliths and Dimensions-referencing sleeve art—makes no aim to mislead the listener about what exactly goes on within its tightly wound 25-minute runtime. The trio openly and actively self-identifies as straight-edge and vegan, with a striking misanthropic streak that’s reflected in the way it intends to decimate all those who listen to its music. (Well, that, and its less-than-subtle merch.) With The Blind Hole, Dead in the Dirt continues to make the music most foul—only this time, it’s upped its game considerably. This is a record that doesn’t merely mine grindcore tropes with the hope that people will quickly take in the bite-sized songs that the genre is so famous for. By incorporating overt doom and hardcore influences, these guys give a considerable low-end heft to their already pulverizing sonic, resulting in an anaerobic collection of tracks that form a satisfying debut.
Key to The Blind Hole’s success is its well-honed production. Fewer crutches in metal production are as grating—both on the ears and conceptually—as the notion that certain subgenres, grindcore and crust in particular, require a lo-fi quality in order to be “authentic”. This leads to results like Kromosom’s Live Forever which, unlike the far superior Iconic Nightmare by Wartorn, gets so caught up in harnessing that “recorded in a Zero Dark Thirty torture room with thrift shop microphones” stylistic that it just sounds like tinny, intolerable noise. (That Wartorn, Kromosom, and Dead in the Dirt all call Southern Lord home demonstrates that while the label may have hit the accelerator a bit too hard with respect to releases, it’s also the site for some of the most fascinating discussions in the genres it represents.) The Blind Hole, like Iconic Nightmare just before it, harnesses the power of the low end to maximal effect. The interplay between the bass and drums on “Knife in the Feathers” and the throbbing doom plod of “Swelling” both capture what makes Dead in the Dirt the gut-punch it’s supposed to be: Not only are these guys willing to be ugly and unforgiving, they’re also okay with making sure the production enhances instead of downplays it.
Like a lot of grindcore albums, the short song lengths here when stacked up together can make this thing fly by, leaving the longer tracks to leave the biggest impression. Amongst a few others, the hardcore rush of “Will is the War” features The Blind Hole’s best bass playing, and the satisfying chug of “The Pit of Me” showcases the record’s savory guitar tones. Some of the ideas explored in these “long” cuts (three and two minutes, respectively) are well-developed enough that it’s easy to wonder where this trio could go if it gave itself a little more time. For now that can only be speculation, but at least while we’re thinking we have an album like The Blind Hole, which is punishing on the ears in all the right ways.