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Lightning Bolt - Wonderful Rainbow

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Artist: Lightning Bolt

Album: Wonderful Rainbow

Label: Load

Review date: Feb. 23, 2003

A Ginormous Record

“Oh shit.”

Inevitably, that’s what music is all about. Be it a crossfade, a sax bleat, guitar solo, or some wicked algorithmic programming, we listen to music to find those moments when you lose the right words and just lock in on the sound of something, the force of it. Not to reduce theoretical studies to a base oversimplification, but ultimately that’s what you look for – someone, some sound to make you look at the bottom of your drink and just say, “Oh shit.” Lightning Bolt’s music is entirely made up of these moments and sounds – riffs linked with breakdowns, disfigured vocals that resonate like mechanical laughter, splattering, tapped out basslines and breakneck drumming all adding up to one continuous moment, one single jaw-dropping experience.

“Oh shit.”

The genius part about Lightning Bolt, the part that takes them from being a great band to a flat-out amazing one is that they take those revelations from so many different places and twist them all together. 2001’s essential Ride the Skies sounded like a collision between Derek Bailey’s most non-idiomatic improvising and Eddie Van Halen’s pinpoint over-the-top fret board taps. At the same time, it was filtered through a cracked lens of hardcore and metal, lifting distorted bass sounds from Flipper, the teetering aggression of bands like Scratch Acid, and the flat out bombast of groups like Slayer. Adding more to the mix were the obvious influences from Japanoise bands like Ruins and Boredoms. The amazing part comes from taking all these sounds and turning it into something that doesn’t dwell on its references, but rather becomes its own entity – one with an intense mixture of fun and chaos.

Take “Assassins”, the second track from Wonderful Rainbow, for example: a quick screech, and then the sonic equivalent of getting smashed in the chest by a truck. Brian Gibson carves a monolithic bass riff out of his 3,800 watts and smacks it full on against Brian Chippendale’s drumming – a scattering, clattering mess of constant bass drum slams to build the tension, and then a release with enough manic fills for six other bands, all the while chattering through his distorted microphone (conveniently attached to his throat via a jaunty knit mask).

“Dracula Mountain” doesn’t let you collect yourself either, with galloping drums and a naïve sing-song melody that stops on a dime and lurches into a massive swath of off-time, bass drum heavy thumping and perfectly timed snare cracks and high note snatches. And of course, just when you get used to the sheer force of it all, that naïve melody comes back, bringing with it a serpentine little bass riff, some rhythmic tom work, and a plunge into what sounds like a Munsters theme song outtake.

“2 Towers” highlights manic improvisation before quickly developing a harder edge, with Gibson burrowing his riffs straight into your skull while Chippendale shifts the rhythm, alternating his fills with simple, pure heavy handed precision. And this is all while building it to a breakneck climax of insane bass work and hyperkinetic drumming. “On Fire” sounds like an alarm call with piercing bass lines that work their way to a low end throb while the drums pound away happily, showing that as hard as Chippendale plays, he matches it with a light handed precision, pausing only for a moment for Gibson to sound off, then launching back into the fray twice as hard.

Gibson starts tapping out the high notes of “Crown of Storms” only to quickly flip it back, contrasting a thumping low-end bass blast with Chippendale’s measured snare cracks. He works the tapping back in, letting the ascending melody rise as he tries to smack it back down. The pace quickens, the drums’ antics increase, until Gibson and Chippendale detonate everything – blast beats and squalling bass lines fighting for air in the relentless din. “Longstockings” almost sounds spare by comparison, with its simple, clean and melodic bass line and the straight-forward drumming and distorted vocals. It then falls, however, into one of the most intense and abstracts burst of noise on the record. “30,000 Monkeys” is Lightning Bolt firing on all cylinders – at times intricate and complex, and at other times hitting with the force of a jackhammer. “Duel in the Deep” finishes out the record on perhaps its most intense and noisy notes – equal parts aggressive and ominous warped shards of bass.

In the end, though, words fail me. I have such a hard time describing Lightning Bolt because it’s impossible to talk about their intensity, their talent, and the great music they create and do it all equal justice. If you want a truly accurate picture of Lightning Bolt, you just have to see them play. They destroy any notion of a fourth wall when they set up on the floor, feeding off the disheveled and energized masses as much as the crowd soaks up everything they have to offer. It’s truly an amazing thing. Wonderful Rainbow is a brilliant record and has upped the ante tremendously for Lightning Bolt. They managed to take every single aspect that made Ride the Skies such a great record and intensify it severely, all the while showcasing incredibly tight and complex musicianship – knowing when to hold in the reins and when to set them on fire. And yet it all seems so effortless. Every time I listen to them I feel like I just stumbled into the practice space of the greatest band in the world, only one that doesn’t know it or care. They just hammer away making music for the pure unadulterated fun of it, while all I can do is sit here and think, “Oh shit.”

By Michael Crumsho

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