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Review

Throat – Bareback Review

Album: Bareback
Label: Svart Records
Genre: Noise rock / Sludge
Country: Finland
Release Date: August 31, 2018

On the surface, Throat appears intent to unsettle. Start with the name – throat, a rather squishy part of the body considering its importance for the vital function of breathing. As the common moments of violence in contemporary media show us, the throat can be chocked, crushed or cut, figuratively or literally. After making us feel the vulnerability of our necks, Throat presents the name of their latest album – “Bareback”. Considering their last one was named “Manhole”, sexual innuendo can be safely assumed. Finally, labelled with the usually abrasive and dark genres of noise rock and sludge, one is justified to conclude that Throat might not be nice bedfellows.

Expecting uncomfortable stories of sex and violence, the first song “Safe Unsound” perfectly sets the stage with slow guitar chords, vocals evoking Nick Cave who is about to do something nasty (or feeling scorned after the act), later exploding in a sludgy bout of rage before ending with some industrial noises. A great intro song if I’ve ever heard one. Everything changes with the second song, “No Hard Shoulder”. Instead of the expected fucked-upness (upfuckedness?), you’re greeted with some rather tame sludgey rock. As this tone continues with the next song, the listener realises that he might have to reassess his expectations, not to be disappointed with something that might after all be good music, just not in a way that was assumed. The charitable listener opens himself to a different interpretation of the synergy between outer representation and the music itself.

A very strong influence on Throat comes to mind – the legendary Melvins. However, it’s readily obvious that Throat don’t have the chops nor the songwriting talent of Buzz and Dale. Even setting this comparison aside, they do try, but they never accomplish the magic. There are good intentions with fusing noise rock’s penchant for textures and sludge’s punch and trod, but it’s been done before, and it’s been done better.The album continues where the intro “Safe Unsound” left off with the fifth song, “Shortage (version)”, an industrial-ish deal with Nick-Cave-soundalike vocals returning. It puts you back in the mood of that first song, but immediately after goes back to old disinterested rock. There are certainly good individual moments. When the band does decide to noise it up (and this aspect is certainly used too sparingly for a noise rock record), they do invent some neat textures and flows. But the songs are never arranged quite compellingly, and if I were cynical, I’d call some of the less impressive parts just straight up punk rock. The whole deal comes of rather limp, which is certainly not helped by the fact that the band does not seem particularly energized, like they’re not even convinced themselves about the music they’re playing.

Perhaps the production doesn’t help in this regard. The album has certainly seen quality recording gear and personnel, but in this way might’ve ended with a sound too streamlined, especially for genres that like to sound gnarled and abrasive. There’s certainly power in it, the bass will fill out your sound system’s low-end capacity. But the (what are supposed to be) interesting bits kind of fall into the background, never really sticking out when they try to impress the listener. It’s becomes especially apparent with just a quick listen of the previous album with its much punchier sound. This approach does work for certain bits, mostly the aforementioned good moments, but otherwise just contributes to the lack of passion the record gives off.

I always feel bad about raking through coals bands and their records when I don’t find them compelling, especially ones like these that are certainly not bad, just not really engaging. So let’s stop doing that and briefly end with a point about the gap between surface presentation and the music itself. Artists often subvert our expectations (musical or non-musical) with the goal of trying something new, changing or progressing the culture, if you will. Take for example Deafheaven’s at the time outrageous album “Sunbather”, whose pink cover and dreamy black metal still attract furious accusations of hipstership. It still did mark a new era for what became known as blackgaze (and arguably influenced all other strands of black metal). Throat’s disjunction of surface imagery and music is no such creative transgression. It just remains a confusing dissonance. Even beyond the surface, the complementary tone found in “Safe Unsound” and “Shortage (Version)” is to be seen nowhere else on the album. It wouldn’t be fair to call them dishonest. Perhaps they just haven’t managed to bridge the interpretive gap between the artist and the public. In any case, “Bareback” is less shocking than it might’ve wanted to present itself as, musically or otherwise.

Rating: 5/10

Tracklist:
1. Safe Unsound
2. No Hard Shoulder
3. Recut
4. Bone Strike
5. Shortage (version)
6. Born Old
7. Rat Domain
8. Maritime

Total Playing Time: 42:18

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