Lexington, Kentucky/Ypsilanti, Michigan’s Hair Police make a brand of cheap and grisly noise music. Certainty of Swarms is the trio’s nth release and, by my count, its sixth ‘proper’ album. Trevor Tremain, Mike Connelly and Robert Beatty are not unusual amongst top-tier noise units for offsetting a mixed-format torrent of limited release, improvised music with loosely themed full-lengths. Other Dusted writers have done an admirable job of tracing the band’s development across its varied discography - such a good job, in fact, that I wonder if Certainty of Swarms is, as Mason Jones said of its predecessor The Empty Quarter, basically redundant. To its credit, the new album features a cautious move back to the in-the-red tantrums of Blow out Your Blood - though the move is a somewhat predictable one, considering the corner they painted themselves into with Constantly Terrified. But Certainty of Swarms doesn’t abandon the group’s still-growing fixation on dread-inducing creep that first surfaced on Mortuary Servants.
Like all of Hair Police’s music, the seven tracks presented here aim for a sense of mounting terror. Although the band’s success at creating a palpable sense of claustrophobia has in the past come from aggressively blocking out musical conventions (particularly by either deferring or indefinitely extending catharsis), “Strict,” the album’s most punishing track, opens with an old rock standby: the count-off. The rest of the album almost follows suit. At points, Certainty of Swarms could be the most structured release of the band’s career. As Tremaine mentioned in a recent interview, the album is mixed in a way that uncharacteristically highlights the drums - even in the maelstrom, you can actually make out individual drum hits - and allows the vocals to engulf everything else. The second half of “Mangled Earth” characterizes the album’s particular sonics. Listeners looking for newness in Hair Police’s music will get a small thrill when Tremaine does a sloppy hardcore drum wind-up, sending the band into a frenzy of gurgling bass tones, black metal guitar chug, and a nearly regular, bludgeoning beat.
Black metal overtones also come to the fore at the 5:30 mark of “Intrinsic to The Execution.” Connelly chokes off his feedbacking guitar, allowing the bottom to drop out of the preceding noise jam, revealing a hoarse, deflated whisper (which calls to mind a bloodless, Xasthur-like croak), around which chunks of oil-drum guitar dart and sputter. Even more interesting is the inadvertent way the dull tom thuds that anchor “On A Hinge” reference the Burundi drums at the heart of Joni Mitchell’s “The Jungle Line.” Instead of cloaking their music in a suffocating atmosphere of non-reference, Certainty of Swarms either allows the band freedom to directly reference the music they draw from, or simply unearths signposts previously buried under scuzz.
Over their appropriately extensive discography, Hair Police have proved that a feedback loop of horror can be as much a dead end as a freeing constraint. They’d probably balk at the comparison, but Hair Police are part of the continuum of free/experimental/out music established by the Nurse With Wound list. Instead of communicating the feeling of living in increasingly precarious times - what the band previously dubbed “gnarly times,” and re-brands here with the mantra “choke on your elders” - by cutting off external references, Certainty of Swarms invites glimpses into their dread-filled cauldron. It’s a more intriguing record for it, but ultimately more a refinement of ideas the band has worked through before than an accomplishment that pushes the trio into new territory. Listening without expectations, there's a lot to like about Certainty of Swarms, but only a few riveting moments.