New York City’s Raspberry Bulbs were originally formed as a solo project by Marco del Rio, who also goes by the moniker He Who Crushes Teeth when playing in crusty black metal duo Bone Awl. Bone Awl has a lengthy discography of demos and splits, and released a fantastically obnoxious, tooth-and-claw full-length in 2007’s Meaningless Leaning Mess. However, Raspberry Bulbs are not a black metal band. Raspberry Bulbs are a punk band, at least as much as they’re a hardcore, metal, indie, post-punk, and scrappy-edged guttural pop band. Black metal is there, in the icy and spiky trills, but Raspberry Bulbs are far more interested in the unclassifiable result of a collision of sounds; which means that the band’s sophomore album, Deformed Worship, is very aptly titled.
Like Bone Awl, Raspberry Bulbs have a series of limited-run demos that are well worth seeking out, and one previous full-length from 2011—the wonderfully bristly and corrosive Nature Tries Again. That album was released on Hospital Productions, the label of famed noise-maker Dominick Fernow (Prurient, Vatican Shadow, etc), and it was a fitting home for Nature Tries Again‘s scathing rawness and unconventionality. The album drew from the same pool of rancorous and disagreeable punk rock that black metal incorporated into its first wave, with del Rio barking over guitars dipped in acid. Outside of that, what made the album especially tempting was that the resulting stew of nastiness was informed by a wide variety of other noisy genres too, with del Rio beholden to none as he followed his own murderous muse.
Deformed Worship sees a couple of notable changes for Raspberry Bulbs. The band has a new label in UK-based Blackest Ever Black, but Raspberry Bulbs fit right in with the label’s roster of similarly recalcitrant artists, so that’s not an issue. However, the other more significant change is that the band has expanded to a five-piece, which might, understandably, cause concern that del Rio’s distinctly personal vision has been diluted.
With four musicians added to the band, Raspberry Bulbs obviously gain more creative flesh, and the furious interplay between all sees them stretch out on blown-out stomps such as “Standing in Line” and “I Was Wrong”, as well as the steamrolling “By the Root”. However, more bodies doesn’t mean less caustic content. The band dumped the first studio versions of Deformed Worship in favor of re-recording all on cassette 8-track, so the same lo-fi whirlwind of genre clashes and crashes is here, and del Rio’s sneering vocals are just as venomous and barbed as before. Still, although the bands’ songs haven’t become anymore congenial as such, there is one noteworthy change.
Deformed Worship gets downright anthemic on occasion, with brittle post-punk riffs transforming into grubby and stampeding Stooges-worthy power chords. Admittedly, those hooks are filthy and frosty, but they’re barbed enough to drag you along as the band charges through grinding passages before careening off into eccentric deviations. Certainly, the same outré mix of sounds found on Nature Tries Again are abundant on the new album too. “Cracked Flesh” sees Killing Joke’s pummel, Wire’s gelid riffing, and an Amphetamine Reptile bass-trawl appear in the first 60 seconds alone. “When a Lie Becomes a Truth” kicks off like Minor Threat covering Dick Dale, “Lusty Climbing” sees grungy riffs hurled about in the innards of an echoing factory, and “Before Man” is a blitzkrieg of chug and churn.
One clear advantage of the fuller band on Deformed Worship is that there’s an organic flow to all the dexterous punk rock ricochets and offbeat time signatures. Nothing seems forced, no one is overreaching, no one is underperforming; it’s just five band members enjoying all the benefits of running acrimonious noise pollution through the mill of distortion, with del Rio’s vocals (more varied this time around) growling, sniping and snarling over the barrage.
Sure, the album nods at its forebears—“Wild Inside” and “Groping the Angel’s Face” sees Joy Division’s hypothermia meet the gut-punch riffery of MC5—but that’s not an accusation of unoriginality. It’s more that there’s a rock ‘n’ roll purity here, albeit of a kind that’s wantonly smothered in filthy and fucked-up salvos, and it’s all summed up perfectly by the violently pink and throwback photocopy artwork of the cover. It simultaneously evokes and inverts squat punk vitriol and underground metal. It’s garish and obnoxious, as Raspberry Bulbs certainly are, and it shows a welcome disdain for easy categorization too—which, as mentioned, is what the band does best.
All up, Deformed Worship is abrasive and mean, with sharp stabs of multi-hued noise resoundingly beaten into new form on each track. Round two from Raspberry Bulbs is just as aggressive as round one, but stepping up a weight class with the band’s new members has given del Rio more room to swing and experiment with a few new punches. Press play, duck for cover, and enjoy all the resulting trauma.