[1 November 2005]
If I say this album is drill & bass, will you hold it against me? Yeah, I know: drill & bass is one of those genre names that usually gets name-checked in music magazines as totally, humorously defunct, usually by the type of folks who think that making any kind of electronic music is so, like, 1998.
Well, the year is 2005 and drill & bass is here to stay. Maybe Aaron Funk—the rather brilliant mastermind behind Venetian Snares—will never make the cover of Blender, or even Wire, but I don’t think he’s worried. He’s making some of the most interesting, uncompromising, and downright fascinating music around. Meathole, far from being a wall of impenetrable noise, is an intricate, aggressive and sometimes harrowing journey into the heart of distortion and distorted soul.
If you’re like me (you’re probably not but bear with me), you probably hold Alec Empire’s The Destroyer to be one of the great unsung albums of the ‘90s. The erstwhile mastermind behind Atari Teenage Riot reached a high point in the genre by applying the same basic rhythms of drum & bass into a focused, angry pinpoint that served as a searing electronic rejoinder to the harshest excesses of both speed metal and hardcore punk. In the years since that album was released most drill & bass that has been released has tended towards the IDM side of the fence—artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher do good work, but in most cases miss the sheer ferocity that Empire brought to the table.
I don’t think anyone would hesitate to call Venetian Snares IDM, but for the most part Meathole is a straight dose of shocking electric breakbeats. The impish sense of humor that defines much IDM is totally absent here, replaced by something far harder and much more dangerous. The album is alive with implications of dark, deviant sexuality—chopped & screwed movie samples that undoubtedly sound far different in their original contexts than when suspended over crashing, staccato drum breaks. This is not music for the meek of spirit.
It’s hard to miss the album’s intent when it opens with a track like “Aanguish”. Over warped vocal samples that the listener can’t quite make out, the beat is continually wound up tighter and tighter, slithering and rampaging over the strange synthesizer noises that warp and bubble underneath the surface. Without missing a beat, the album segues into “Choprite”, beginning with a deadpan vocal sample which informs us that “...in the criminal mind, switches for tenderness are cold; the triggers for violence hot. What should be normal passion is distorted—deranged—deadly.” As the track continues on a figurative journey into the criminal mind, the beats loom harsh and punishing, ramping up into impossible heights of brutal, calculated savagery.
“Aamelotasis” is perhaps the album’s best track. Built on an unlikely bedrock of warm, analog jazz samples, the beats proceed from fairly normal Gene Krupa-ish breaks on through to become far more harsh and unrelenting, never letting up for the entirety of almost six anxiety-drenched minutes. The album jumps back into more ascetic digital territory in “Des Plaines” and “Sinthasomphone”, both of which introduce disturbing elements of otherwise-placid musical motifs, such as tinkling bells and major-chord synthesizer refrains. The later track serves as the album’s climax, the jagged rhythms evolving over the course of eight-and-a-half minutes into something that sounds strangely like a harpsichord, playing gently for a few seconds before jumping into the clattering body of “Aaperture”.
Throughout the album, the specter of unpleasant, transgressive malevolence is continually present. Seemingly innocent themes are exploited to create painful juxtapositions between what we expect and what we fear. And above it all hover the dangerous, wrathful breakbeats that proceed without mercy, without repentance, marching endlessly to the beat of a haggard, exhausted, adrenalin-soaked drummer.