[5 December 2013]
It’s almost taken as gospel that by the time December rolls around every album that you must hear has already been released… But that’s not always the case. As the ashes of 2013 blows away, there is still the odd ember that burns incandescently. Beastmilk’s debut full-length Climax is one such ember, and according to the recent hype and bluster mustered by this Finnish four-piece, it seems like there’ll be little chance that Beastmilk will be forgotten amidst the fiery furore caused by endless “end of year” lists.
Beastmilk are comprised of underground musicians, most notably singer Mat “Kvohst” McNerney, known for his involvement in black metal provocateurs Dødheimsgard and Code, and the psychedelic neo-folk ensemble, Hexvessel. However, lacking knowledge of those three underground bands is not essential to your Beastmilk listening experience because metal is all but a distant suggestion, mostly remaining in the aggressive way in which these musicians attack their instruments. Instead, Beastmilk suckle at the kohl-crusted teat of the major players of the early ‘80s goth, post-punk, death rock scene. And the band’s unabashed re-imagination of the music of their influences – the Sisters of Mercy, Echo and the Bunnymen, Bauhaus, Joy Division, Christian Death, Killing Joke, the Cure, Danzig, etc. – is so well conceived and unapologetic that the lack of originality at the heart of Climax becomes little more than an afterthought.
Beastmilk were first pressed to our consciousness by Darkthrone’s Fenriz, who championed the band’s two-song demo White Stains on Black Tape on his “Band of the Week” blog back in 2010. Last year the band followed up their demo cassette with the well-received EP titled, Use Your Deluge, and Climax pushes the band out from the shadow cast by their EP with a slicker, more brazen statement of what made the post-punk/goth music of the ‘80s so great.
Ironically, there is also a real freshness to the presentation of Beastmilk’s music, and the irresistibly huge choruses of songs like “You Are Now Under Our Control”, “Genocidal Crush”, and “Love in a Cold World” have massive cross-over appeal. This cross-over already seems to have its wheels in motion, given that indie-praising publications like the NME, who have recently streamed Climax in full over at their official website, appear to be fully on board. All of this amounts to brilliant news for the band and their excellent label, Svart Records, who have had yet another sterling year with releases from artists that cross the retrogressive and progressive divide, with Beastmilk possessing the potential to become a true break-out group.
What draws contemporary musicians to the music of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s is generally nothing surprising or premeditated. It’s more than likely a result of musicians who grew up with the dark pop of the times etched into their simple minds and who want to express this part of their musical genesis in adult life. 2013 has served up some of the best ‘80s-inspired albums, largely within the metal realm (although the ‘80s post-punk/goth influence within metal is nothing new), as bands like Vaura and In Solitude have both demonstrated their love for this particular movement on their latest (greatest) releases. Unlike these bands, Beastmilk have more in common with the current ‘80s-inspired groups who reside outside of metal – Interpol, Iceage, Editors, or Spectres – due to the fact that they don’t use post-punk/goth to add flavour to their metallic brew, be it post-black metal (Vaura) or traditional heavy metal (In Solitude). Alternatively, Beastmilk embrace the repetition and minimalism of ‘80s post-punk/goth wholeheartedly while retaining the heaviness and the dark lyricism of metal, as the self-professed “apocalyptic post-punk” band weaves bleak Cold War-inspired tales of nuclear death into the neurological throb of the bass-lines, the unfussy yet propulsive drum-beats, and the wintry, dystopian echo of the guitars.
The music itself has been written by guitarist Goatspeed (the band’s rounded out by drummer Paile and bassist Arino), and Goatspeed’s understanding of dark ambient tones and textures, grim moods and anthemic drive – all accentuated by the authentic, hard-hitting production job of Kurt Ballou (Converge) – recreates the haunting, gothic air that wraps itself around albums like the Cure’s Disintegration, Joy Division’s Closer, or the Sisters of Mercy’s Floodlands. That’s not to say Climax will go on to be as highly regarded as those albums; such achievements are not possible because of time and circumstance. But due to the high standards of the songwriting, there’s plenty take pleasure in: most remarkably the abundance of vocal hooks littered throughout each of the ten songs, not to mention the amount of shameless hand-claps used as rhythmic accompaniments.
Kvohst’s timbre drips with dejection and paranoia, and he can turn from Ian Curtis-esque detachment to Robert Smith-style heartbreak with ease. He also has the ability to transform a song like “Surf the Apocaplyse” from a post-punk exorcism to Danzig-worthy chest-thumper without dispersing the gloom that ensconces the entire album. His chameleonic call does bring to mind the aforementioned singers, as well as Andrew Eldritch, amongst others, and it can be stated that while he does a great job of channelling such talents, he lacks a distinctive voice of his own. And while this statement is true to a certain extent, the strength of his melodies as they coalesce with the rush of guitars, drums and bass towards each resplendent chorus more than makes up for such flaws, and the “spot-the-goth-singer” game passes by after a few listens.
What you are ultimately left with is an album that deserves the hype placed upon it, written by a band who wears their influences as a badge of pride rather than shamefully shoving said influences into the background, hoping nobody notices. Derivative? Yes – but Climax is immorally addictive and thoroughly enjoyable, in as apocalyptic a way as possible, from beginning to end.