Band: John Frum
Album: A Stirring In The Noos
Label: Relapse Records
Genre: Death Metal, Progressive Metal
Country: United States
Release Date: May 12th, 2017
Contrary to what you may think (and indeed what I originally thought) when seeing the name of this musical project this is not a one man project. John Frum is actually the name of the band consisting of four extremely talented musicians. The line-up consists of ex-The Faceless vocalist Derek Rydquist, The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Liam Wilson on bass guitar, Matt Hollenberg who has previously played as part of John Zorn’s backing band and last but not least Eli Litwin of the Extreme Metal band Intensus. It’s safe to say that this group of musicians who are as varied as they are talented and multi-dimensional. Two questions arise in regards to this whole situation and they are as follows. Who or what the hell is John Frum? And what kind of music would a band with so many different backgrounds make?
Well, first things first. The name John Frum comes from a relatively isolated group of native islands in the South Pacific known as the Cargo Cult. Originally they coined the name John Frum as an alias in order to reject the European ways, the oppressive advances of passing missionaries and others who may try to spoil or alter their old traditions. However, during the 1940s the name took on a different meaning. It was used to reflect the encounters with the vast amounts of American Soldiers who arrived by see and air bearing crates or “cargo”. These events radically changed the beliefs and lifestyle of people who believed that the soldiers and their offerings were God-like and were sent directly from the heavens.
Now, with that history lesson out of the way I move on to the second question. The band themselves has self-described their sound as “darkly psychedelic and meticulously-crafted death metal” and it appears to be exactly that.
Album opener ‘Presage Of Emptiness’ does a wonderful job of setting the tone for the album from the very outset. The bass and drums intertwine together to create a complex rhythmic section and work perfectly alongside the guitars to create a sense of apprehension as to which route the album is going to take. We are not kept waiting very long before the song picks up pace and heaviness. The vocals enter and are deep and powerful from the get go. At this point the song has taken on a typical Death Metal sound (on the surface) however; it becomes impossible to ignore just how complicated and indeed impressive the time signatures are. I feel like from the very start it is clear to see how Liam’s previous musical exploits have influenced the approach of John Frum. Returning to my previous point, this song serves perfectly as an album opener as it forces the listen to pay attention by grabbing them and pulling them straight in to the fire.
The next track ‘Pining Light’ carries on in very much the same way. The music is fast and hectic from the start, with the drums dictating the break neck speed brilliantly. The vocals once again sound reminiscent of traditional Death Metal acts such as Cannibal Corpse and Suffocation whilst the guitars take on a much more modern-day metal feel, owing more to bands like Architects and Norma Jean with their awkward, dissonant chords and highly technical riffing.
So far, so good…
The next track ‘Memory Palace’ takes the album off on a completely different tangent. This is where ‘A Stirring In The Noos’ is set to polarise the listeners. If you like your metal to be straight up heavy and aggressive without straying too far from the Death Metal playbook then this track is certainly not for you. However, if you have a slightly more varied pallet and have the patience to let the music wash over you gradually then you should most certainly get comfortable and close your eyes… this is quite a ride. The heavily delayed, reverb drenched guitar effects paired with the slow, glacially-paced rhythm section builds slowly but surely. Until around the two and a half minute mark when you are welcomed with an uppercut from a dirty, heavy guitar tone and deep, blood curdling vocal effort from Derek. The track then slowly trudges on, taking on an almost Doom Metal feel. Complete with low-end guitar riffs and hard hitting, slow drum beats that work excellently well at making the whole sections feel live a very epic and grandiose experience. It is not until around the six minute mark that the song begins to really pick up the pace again as the guitar wails over the top of a double bass drum beat. This guitar solo comes at the perfect moment, just before the song begins to become a little stale and stagnant you are hit with a complete left turn as the foot hits the floor and throws all caution to the wind.
The next track that is a real stand out for me has to be ‘Lacustrine Divinations’. It doesn’t mess about in any way, shape or form. Rather it is straight to the point and direct in its delivery. This is a full-on Death metal assault and will come as a relief to many of the listeners who grew impatient with the some what sluggish section in the middle of ‘Memory Palace’ (that group does not include me, as I personally welcomed the change in musical direction).
Another song that deserves an honourable mention is ‘He Come’. Normally I am not a massive fan of instrumental tracks in metal music, when they are not done well I feel like a lot of the time they are either a delay tactic to lengthen albums when the artist run out of ideas or they are a self-indulgent exercise that is used to merely show off the musicians’ chops. However, with a band with as many different backgrounds and influences as John Frum the idea is truly exciting. The track is a real lesson in awkward and fascinating time signatures and heaviness. For the most part Litwin really steals a lot of the spotlight from behind the drum kit on this one, the bursts of double bass pedals and mind-scrambling fills will surely please the percussion enthusiasts amongst the listeners. The guitar tones are crunchy in parts and crushingly heavy in others with some expert noodling going on at different intervals throughout its four minute duration.
Overall, I would say that this album has a lot to offer. If you are a fan of Death metal, but crave a little more variety in your music then this album will be perfect for you. I would say that this album is a fantastic starting point for a band that shows a lot of promise. This is not an album that you would want to come on for gym playlist, but it certainly will keep most Metalheads entertained and interested throughout. This is the thinking man’s metal.
1. Presage Of Emptiness
2. Pining Light
3. Memory Palace
4. Through Sand And Spirit
5. Lacustrine Divination
6. He Come
7. Assumption Of Form
8. Wasting Subtle Body
Total Playing Time: 43:20