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Aids Wolf vs. Athletic Automaton

Clash of the Life Force Warriors

(Skin Graft; US: 14 Nov 2006; UK: 15 Jan 2007)

Though it clocks in at just over half an hour, The Clash of the Life Force Warriors will obviously not be taken lightly. For many, the 10 tracks from the (often combined) genius of AIDS Wolf and Athletic Automaton will be an interminable assault.  For others the time will fly, in a joyous celebration of shrieking intensity. And some will be bewildered by the labyrinth of noise.


Who are the Life Force Warriors? Shall we take a literal approach and assume that the bands are both of this breed and the record is document to their meeting? Are they spectators here to tell the tale in “song”? Do the warriors have some malevolent agenda against the forces of life? Do they wreak havoc and destruction? Occasionally this is very believable. Or rather is this the sound of defense? Do they embody life and all of its intensity?

Lyrical clues are non-existent, as vocals are far from intelligible and no lyric sheet is provided. Certain tracks lend themselves to an epic tale: “Olympic Pawns”, “Soul Cannibals”, “Ending of an Old Regime”. And yet there’s also “Tears and Blowjob” to throw you off track. Perhaps the crude illustrations of toothy monsters, four-eyed, bearded men in distress, and a particularly hairy or ethereal wizard have some bearing on all this. But there isn’t enough, and all the aspects seem to only align as some vague and uneasy puzzle, much like the aural clash. 


Athletic Automaton begin the disc with “Pantstathalon”. The track sounds distant, from the bottom of the sea, before a numb guitar begins riffing. Drums bash and rumble forth and the sea begins to boil. The guitar is obscured in wah-wah-ed static fuzz which seems to gain primacy when coupled with the uneasy pummeling of drums. While this is dense and repetitive, it does not sound sloppy.  Even in the coda of almost entirely disguised guitar, the hazy wash twists and sways to its internal logic. 


And it is time for AIDS Wolf to answer back. They do so with the punky “Letter to Al Johnson”. The Wolf seems to have more of the trappings of conventional songwriting in their repetition of shouts and guitar figures, but they retain a similar high commitment to noise. Guitars and vocals seem secondary to the massive beating drums and bleeding, shaking distortions. These often prime instruments are used to provide texture to the massive texture that is the songs. There are levels of distortion which, at the best moments, seem disconnected from the identifiable sources. A wailing drone is above and around “Collecting Past Debts”, swirling on upon itself and then stopping, then changing, then hissing. These apparitions, these haunts, perplex and also beckon. Precisely those aspects that will lead some to dismiss the music as all sounding the same, or sounding plainly unpleasant, will be the heart of others’ fascination.


Listening to this I cannot help but wish I were seeing it played live. The appreciation of droning levels of distortion, feedback and static sound like dull approximations of the waves of din one would be subsumed in at a concert. Is this a failing of the music, the record or me? 


My sense is that I am merely uninitiated in the ways of noise. The production is dynamic and interesting, sometimes documenting the fray but quick to highlight a guitar line when necessary. While I am interested, I feel that I still need some stipulation applied to my understanding. This would work well as an experience but on record doesn’t it falter from exactly what I would lose myself in? It all begins to bleed together as you work your way through it. Isn’t that the point? It’s like a nightmare vision of Phil Spector’s “wall of sound,” with all the sounds turned up too high and the speakers blowing out. 


I am more intrigued by Athletic Automaton, whose solo tracks sound like bizarre takes on jazz or dance music. They build and work through themes allowing for subtle variations. It is like a slow and heavy improvisation. Even when dense, even in its repetition, it sounds open and strange. “Olympic Pawns” flirts with song structure in its variations on a through line, an alternately shrieking and droning guitar. Sometimes it is accompanied only by a monotonous bass drum, sometimes machine gun snare reports, sometimes riffing drums and further layers of squealing guitar. It drags but there are subtleties, intricacies, to this cacophony. 


“Ending of an Old Regime” closes the set, with AIDS Wolf and Athletic Automaton combining with as much fervor as ever. It plods forth like a hellish dirge.  Shaky screams and massive drums surround a guitar which would not be out of place in Black Sabbath. Above are piled disembodied, aimless yelps and squeaks of, presumably, guitar. It gets more and more dense, and the guitar locks in with the drums, creating a gut-punch girding over which the vocals and ghost-guitars howl. It gets hot, concentrated and then it drawls and stutters to a stop. And while you’re totally expecting it, the “surprise” wails out of nowhere with such an unearthly quality that you may actually jump. It’s nice to know that rock can still sound threatening.

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