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The Skull Defekts - Peer Amid

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Artist: The Skull Defekts

Album: Peer Amid

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Feb. 21, 2011

The Skull Defekts, out of Sweden, inject menace at every turn. They lash the primordial anxieties of tribal chants to post-industrial, post-punk alienation, in a time-bending reminder that life on earth has always been short, brutal and shadowed by fear.

In this iteration, The Skull Defekts is comprised of two guitarists (Joachim Nordwall and Daniel Fagenstroem), a drummer and percussionist (Henrik Rylander and Jean-Louis Huhta, respectively), and Lungfish’s Daniel Higgs singing. Everyone doubles on electronic instruments. As a result, there’s an intriguing mix of the primitive and the futuristic at work on Peer Amid, with ragged electric guitar riffs sawing through mystical chants, computerized squawks and squiggles pinging off brutal tom-tom cadences.

Most of the cuts are founded on insistent, repetitive rhythms, hard eighths and quarters that are punched out by drums, but amplified by clanking, menacing guitars. The sound is physically propulsive, enveloping and mildly psychoactive. The beat pounds hard on the most lizardly parts of the brain, bringing a catharsis, a sheer rush of physicality. Add to this Higgs layering dank, ominous and priestly intonations over the galloping drums, and you have an aesthetic that is as engrossing as it is disturbing. You can’t look. You can’t look away.

The long title track is probably the most representative, beginning in Higgs’ tortured, alternately vocalized howl and settling, almost immediately, into a freight train’s locomotive beat. Higgs’ vocals are hypnotically simple, the first line comprised of a few rising notes, the second the same in descent. Variation occurs mostly around the rhythmic riff, little explosions of percussion, guitar and electronics flying off an inexorable beat. Yet this beat is, perhaps, the main thing. There’s a physical pulse to the track in the endless string of eighth notes, the twos and fours punched hard enough to ruffle the water in your glass.

“What Knives, What Birds” is the main exception to this tribal-pounding, mystery-intoning pattern, a collage of disjointed electronic sounds and alternate vocalizations. Here, Higgs howls, barks and moans like a backwoods preacher taken up in the spirit, at first completely untethered to meter, key or musical phrase. A solid rhythm eventually coalesces behind him, but it takes a while, the groove rearing up out of chaos, like mountains rising in a tectonic plate shift.

Even in the most unhurried moments, the glacially slow, wordlessly mystic “Silver River” for instance, Peer Amid exudes an aura of danger and extremity that might remind you of Swans. It is, at minimum, the kind of all-encompassing, emotionally-fraught sound that makes it hard to keep your distance. In her Dusted Listed feature a few years ago, Foxy Digitalis’ Eden Hemming-Rose said, “If Dante’s Inferno is ever made into a movie, they’ll have to hire The Skull Defekts to do the soundtrack. These artfully-menacing Scandinavians make me want to kill myself, just so I can find out whether Hell really is that interesting.” When was the last time a band affected you that viscerally? Too long, most likely.

By Jennifer Kelly

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