We writers, especially those of us who like to prattle on about the latest metal album to blow our minds, love to categorize music. Since the beginning of the 1990s, metal’s number of subgenres has been increasing exponentially; as soon as a new branch appears on the family tree, another couple new twigs start sprouting. In the end, all the pigeonholing doesn’t really matter if the music is great, but still, part of the fun of listening to extreme music is attaining a firm grasp of the myriad musical styles that are crowded under the by now far-too-general umbrella term “metal”. To be able to tell the difference between such sounds as blackened death metal and blackened thrash metal, or sludge doom and funeral doom, is not unlike a jazz aficionado boasting his knowledge of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodics or deconstructing the atonal free jazz of Cecil Taylor, the kind of jargon that enhances the insular appeal of the metal subculture. That said, it’s even better when a band comes along with an album that completely defies categorization. In recent years, both Mastodon and Pig Destroyer have done it, and now, an obscure band from New Hampshire calling itself Trap Them has as well.
Comprised of current and former members of black metal band December Wolves, hardcore outfit Backstabbers, Inc., grindcore band Transistor Transistor, and sludge doom greats Grief, the enigmatically titled Sleepwell Deconstructor is every bit as diverse as the sounds of the aforementioned acts. At the root of Trap Them’s sound is a very strong grindcore influence, but the deeper one digs, the richer the music becomes. We hear the seminal grind of Nasum, the authoritative hardcore of Converge, the irresistible “death ‘n’ roll” groove of Swedish greats Entombed, the monolithic crust/sludge of underrated Canadian stalwarts Cursed, all delivered with the melting-pot ferocity of Pig Destroyer. In fact, this album packs more into its 21-minute running time than many of the band’s peers are capable of in an hour, and recorded and mixed by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou, he of the most thrilling guitar tone in extreme music today, it boasts a sound that is as varied as it is visceral.
“Put on your mask / Put on your gloves / We’re heading out / We’re going down,” hollers vocalist Ryan John McKenney over the ferocious grind maelstrom of opening cut “Insomniawesome”, delivering a rallying cry for the disillusioned, disenfranchised, and just plain pissed-off. The crust-infused “They Followed the Scent of Jihad All the Way to Thieves Paradise” downshifts from thrashy speed to a wickedly seething breakdown, McKenney’s protestations becoming positively frightening: “I’m starting with one / I’m ending with all / There won’t be flags flying or sirens wailing / Distress calls or towers falling / Jus the sound of shovels digging.” The 90 second “Garlic Breakfast” is one of the record’s highlights from a guitar standpoint, as Brian Izzi unleashes hammer-ons and pull-offs and wonky squeals reminiscent of early Mastodon as drummer Scott DeFusco churns out some relentless grind beats. The charging groove of “Digital Dogs” is the kind of tune that would make a crowded venue erupt in fits of pit violence, while Ballou lends a helping hand on “Fucked as Punk” and the massive, lurching “Threatnurse”, providing his trademark guitar work.
On such an uncompromising, confrontational album, it’s always a good idea to have one centerpiece track, to both serve as a respite from the repetitive speed, yet at the same time trounce the other songs by its sheer muscle. Pig Destroyer did it three years ago with “Towering Flesh”, Converge’s “Grim Heart / Black Rose” was a revelation on 2006’s No Heroes, and “Deconstructioneer Extraordinaire” has Trap Them pulling the exact same stunt off brilliantly. A couple seconds shy of five minutes, it’s an epic track by this band’s standards, as the foursome goes for a more pensive mood, Izzi’s clean, mellifluous arpeggios reminiscent of Slayer, punctuated by refrains of thick sludge chords. McKenney, meanwhile, is as vehement and bile-spewing as ever, delivering an impassioned manifesto, vowing at one point, “I’ll submit to no one / I’ll be no one’s cause.” Sleepwell Deconstructor was already a strong album, but such a subtle detour elevates the album to an extraordinary level, and by the time the CD is over, we’re left craving more (and more shall we have, as a new EP will be recorded over the summer). Call it what you will, crust-grind-death ‘n’ roll-sludge, but a far more appropriate term would be, “One of the year’s best.” That’s a category any band wouldn’t mind being lumped into.