Review by Will Harris
On learning that El Drugstore has in its three-man line-up one member and one former member of East of the Wall (whose latest, Redaction Artefacts, is reviewed here), you might know that with the band’s debut release one thing is certain: you should expect the unexpected. The fact that they released a split with aural mindfuckers A Fucking Elephant (whose Seven Inches is reviewed here) in 2011 might further indicate that what awaits is even more sinister than what you might have first anticipated. El Drugstore describe their music as ‘instrumental freak attack’, which is probably exactly what you were thinking anyway.
Building on the turbulent dementia demonstrated on the 2011 record, Plague Ship is a perverse ten-track trip through psychotically-calculated musical bedlam. Right from the clangy discord of ‘Tell Them I Said Something’ there is a very definite sense that not all is right within the minds of El Drugstore. Various elements of (in no particular order) thrash, black metal, prog, hardcore and math-rock are all present here, but you’d need a detailed genre map and a lot of time on your hands to pin them all down amidst this maelstrom of guitar, bass and drums.
Some tracks, such as the aforementioned opener, feature dizzying variations on a central dark theme, while others are trademarked by their effect of locking the listener into one particular winding riff before snapping them awake with stunning guitar chugs. ‘Hipster Tits’ in particular feels like a hellish rollercoaster of corkscrews, spins and big drops, beginning with thundering palm-mutes before slipping into swaying eeriness that builds to ascending chromatic mania.
And yet, what’s also immediately apparent is that the musicianship is diabolically top-notch: humorous song titles such as ‘By What Ill-Gotten Means Have You Procured This Meat?’ belie immense sophistication in these impeccable, frequently polyrhythmic compositions; there’s literally that much going on that you can discover something new or hear something differently nearly every time you listen. You wonder about vocals, but the truth is that they would merely detract from the astounding interplay at work.
Other song titles, meanwhile, can feel unsettlingly appropriate. ‘Tokyo Assault’, with its many changes, manic guitar runs, merciless chord slogs and mesmerising slower passages, is as seizure-inducing as you might imagine a siege on Japan’s capital to be, while the unrelenting speed and nonsensical riffs of ‘Wheel of Sadness’ evoke not the common sadness felt by you or I, but the confused, unexplained sadness that torments the minds of the criminally insane.
Needless to say, those unaccustomed to or intolerant of such brain-melting madness will probably find their patience wears thin early on while listening to Plague Ship, but there’s true unbound invention on display here. Who knew there were so many “wrong-sounding” chords? More importantly, who knew they could feel so right?
8.5 out of 10
- Tell Them I Said Something
- Hipster Tits
- Enthusiastic Corruption of the Public Good
- Fascinating Underpants
- By What Ill-Begotten Means Have You Procured This Meat?
- The Natives Are Getting Useless
- Tokyo Assault
- Wheels of Sadness
- Pandemonium in the Bronx