No matter how much we try to avoid it, each and every one of us is a slave to the clock. Toddlers anxiously ask their mothers when it’s time to watch Dora the Explorer. Students sit pinned to their desks, watching the minute hand continue its painful crawl toward the top of the hour. Everyone from executives to the guy at the video store waits anxiously for their coffee breaks, and even worse, our evenings are ruled by what time our favorite television shows begin. Hell, even yours truly has to submit this review to his editors by a certain hour on Sunday. With every perfunctory glance at our wristwatches, computer screens, or car dashboards, those ticking seconds control us all, no matter how much we want to deny it. The fact is, if you’re reading this review, there’s probably somewhere you have to be later on, at a specific time, so if you have a few minutes to spare between now and then, please bear with me while I tell you about an impressive little album that’s all about the concept of time and the effect it has on us all.
“To the chronoclast, what is of direct concern is how time is perceived, controlled, exploited, manipulated, institutionalized and internalized. If we do not understand time, we become its victims.” Heady stuff, indeed, and definitely not the kind of liner notes you’d usually expect from a young metal band, but then again, Buried Inside are far from your usual Ozzfest playing, moshpit inducing metalcore band. Instead, they’ve left the friendly violent fun to the Hatebreeds of the world, and have taken it upon themselves to actually try to send a message to the listener. The Ottawa, Ontario band’s third album, and first for Relapse, Chronoclast, is as close to a “thinking person’s metal” album as you’ll ever find, as the lyrics and notes (complete with quotes from such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Jonathan Swift, Karl Marx, and economist/activist Jeremy Rifkin) makes the album come off as sounding like a university dissertation. A really loud, intense, cathartic dissertation.
Two styles of heavy music dominated 2004. There was the sprawling, superheavy drones of Neurosis and Isis, whose albums The Eye of Every Storm and Panopticon opted for the long, sustained guitar notes, providing as much ambient noise as visceral punch. Equally strong was the onset of contemporary hardcore, as the great underground sounds of grindcore (Converge, Pig Destroyer) and sludge (Mastodon) both hit an all-time peak in popularity. Like their fellow countrymen in Cursed, Buried Inside find themselves heavily influenced by both sides, and do a very good job at walking the tightrope between the two, but unlike Cursed’s strong love for the sludge, these guys have a slight preference for the Neurosis/Isis sound. The riffs by guitarists Andrew Tweedy and Matias Palacios-Hardy ebb and flow, evoking as much My Bloody Valentine as the Deftones. Like on Isis’s debut Oceanic, the overall tone of the guitars is heavy on mood, but once you get into the album, the melodies the duo creates are very effective, and in fact, carry each song, as Nicholas A. Shaw’s screamed vocals are suppressed in the mix just enough to force the listener to lose themselves in the guitar melodies. Very different to Isis and Neurosis, though, is the stellar drumming by Michael B. Godbout, who performs with an intensity that’s astonishing at times, providing maniacal fills and insane polyrhythms that are more similar to the tightly-wound “math metal” of The Dillinger Escape Plan.
Chronoclast, despite the dense beauty of the layers of guitars, is still an album that needs to be allowed to grow on the listener. Presented as a constant, 40 minute suite instead of a straightforward collection of songs (with upcoming albums by Meshuggah and The Mars Volta using the same gimmick, it seems that concept is really in vogue these days), there are few noticeable moments when a track ends and a new song starts, as each track bleeds into the next seamlessly. As a result, it’s very difficult at first to find a memorable track to revisit, but after repeated listens, what ends up standing out most impressively are the languorous interludes “Time as Methodology” and “ReIntrodusction”, and most noticeably the seven minute “Time as Surrogate Religion”, an epic within an epic, a brilliant exercise in progressive heavy metal, a song dominated by a spectacular drumming performance by Godbout.
If the guitars and drumming rope you in, it’s the lyrics that keeps you attached to the CD booklet for the duration. Heard without the lyrics as a reference, Shaw’s monotone screaming tends to wear thin, but once you start to follow along in the CD booklet, it’s intriguing, to say the least, as he boisterously sermonizes (but not too heavy-handedly) on nine different themes, sounding like a cross between a philosophy major and a sanity-challenged homeless guy on a streetcorner. The lyrics are tough to fathom at times (“Ideologies are habits of thought that defy thought and enable people to avoid thought”), but soon all the increasingly anti-capitalist lyrics start to make some sense.
A great poet named Ginsberg once wrote of people “who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade.” No matter how hard we try to wriggle from the grasp of the clock, its grip tightens, and especially in this technocentric time, it’s more inescapable than ever. The subject is a fascinating one, and Chronoclast does an admirable job getting its message across, and is bound to keep listeners thinking long after the album’s over. Trust me, dear reader, it’s time well spent. Now, hurry off. Don’t be late.