[16 October 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
At the start of the Body’s new album, Christs, Redeemers, there is a solitary female singer. “Oh child, sing songs of farewell,” she says over a distant swirl of choral voices. Her voice is restrained and beautiful, tense with longing but bleeding out in all directions. It’s a pure moment of bittersweet, achingly gorgeous music. It doesn’t last. Not in how we expect anyway. The voices drift into the ether, disappear behind a black-out buzzing of atmospheric feedback and synths and found sound. You could call it white noise, if it didn’t also seem so pitch dark, so all-encompassing in its shadowy effect.
This is both what we would expect from the Body—the duo comprising members Chip King and Lee Buford—but it is also an unexpected deviation. It takes the spaces explored on their EP from earlier this year, Master, We Perish, and carves out deeper gouges. It opens up into sounds every bit as punishing as the band’s masterful 2010 record, All the Waters of the World Turn to Blood, but that punishment takes on a sturdier, more imposing shape here. More importantly, though, it’s the way strings and vocals frame the Body’s sound that is key to Christs, Redeemers. What we learn is that moment when the woman’s voice is consumed in noise, those two elements are in opposition. It is not the beautiful consumed by the ugly, it’s that the beautiful and the ugly are connected, maybe not beautiful or ugly at all, but two sides of the same complicated set of feelings.
The Assembly of Light Choir holds up “To Attempt Openness”. The group is singing somewhere on the astral plane but shackled by their ankles to guitars too jagged to call them buzzsaw, drums hammered impossibly hard and in cinder-block-size chunks. They give over their space to Chip Kings vocals, which are so shrill, so piercing, so buried in the mix and in countless layers of fuzz that they sound more like another blistering sound filling up the atmosphere than a human voice. He writes lyrics here, but you’ll never decipher them. Instead, King seems to scrape at every word, forcing the agony out of them. He cuts out steps between word, understanding, meaning, and feeling, leapfrogging right to the last step, formlessly screaming the whole way. But not even his voice is the final word here. Snippets of a voice—a far calmer, more ghostly one than King’s—rise and ripple through the song’s clattering finale. It’s a song with such sturdy force, and yet no clear shape.
And this is perhaps the foundation of the Body’s brilliant sound. You are always firmly aware of the song’s dynamics, and yet you find yourself surprised by elements at every turn. It’s not unlike walking through your home in the pitch black. You know what’s there, but you’ll still walk into end tables, you’ll still feel for the doorjamb on the wall. And so while you may find comfort in choir’s return on the thundering “Melt Away”, that comfort bottoms out when the guitars start scuffing and King’s howling returns and Buford’s drums seem intent on pounding through the studio floor.
This unrelenting sound never does let up. Much has been said about just how brutal the Body sounds, and there’s truth to it. But if they are difficult to pin down in a genre—we tie them to metal because it’s easy, despite jumping through several subgenres of metal and industrial rock and ambient music and so on—they are also difficult to pin down in effect. Do the angelic vocals and sweet strings on “An Altar or a Grave” raise up the underground explosion of King and Buford’s back and forth (the guitar as percussive as the drums in spots), or do King and Buford drag the angels down? Are we aiming for that altar or that grave? Are the more propulsive rhythms and palpitating guitar textures of “Prayers Unanswered” an emotional breaking point or a new discovery, a new plateau? Are we to be disheartened by the devastating feedback and impossible crunch of closer “Bearer of Bad Tidings”—in which King apparently sings that he views “all the world a grave”—or is this a bracing moment of the most terrifying freedom?
That the Body provides no easy answers is exactly what makes the band so fascinating and each listen of the record so rewarding. Christs, Redeemers does seem to address the myriad ways we can be saved, but not spiritually. Rather, it may be about what we need to let go of to go on. For all this weighty expanse—and this stuff is black-fucking-hole heavy—maybe it’s more about representing what can shuffle off than what we should drag around with us. It’s a devastating listen, but only at first. Over time, there’s a strange comfort to this dark, rumbling world, to a place where there truly is no boundary between the sublime and the grotesque, where emotions are expressed at their most extreme, where nerves are scraped clean of their myelin sheath and left to deal with whatever stimuli hit them at whatever angle. The Body makes difficult music, and Christs, Redeemers is that difficulty at its most masterful and controlled, even as it seems at every turn unruly, deeply and truly dangerous. What’s so dangerous about it, though, isn’t that it seems too dark or depressing, but rather that this kind of barbed, pitch-black, howling freedom rings so true, seems so desirable and yet so unattainable.