This record begins with the uncontrolled wailing of guitar feedback and squalor, later joined by the gasps of a dying piano. And that’s a good place to start.
Because, then, it kicks you in the goddamn teeth.
Turn it up! Turn it up! “Bone Voyage,” Elephant Rifle’s entry in Noise-Punk Single of the Year, explodes like so many nail-tinged grenades in every direction, the guitar and drums barbed-wired together in rapid-fire syncopation before the former breaks into a screeching hellfire roar. Then, the singer starts to let loose, some bark reminiscent of early 80s hardcore, maybe, and, for a second, you could swear he’s harmonizing … with the Fucking. Distorted. Electric. Guitar. This band is not messing around, folks.
On Ivory, the Reno, NV band’s latest offering, out this month via Humaniterrorist, the hits and bruises keep mounting from there. “Red Shirts” seems like an exercise in tom rolls and muddy vocals, until the cacophony drops a dime halfway through the proceedings and then suddenly stops Stops STOPS on the damn thing again Again AGAIN in blitzkrieg, migraine-inducing fashion. “Dogs Wolves Wolverines” mines the most raw, original and authentic punk I’ve heard in years. “Frank Black” is the blues at its angriest and most volatile.
The thing is not without ambition, if that hasn’t become clear by now. “Horses,” which closes the 10-track outing after the noisy “Skeleton Key,” starts with a post-rockish interlude, which seems eerie and utterly out-of-place. But it’s effective. The band kicks it to the curb to build on the structure and melody with a, um, touch more distortion and a skittering drum line that suits them far better. By the two-minute mark, these guys’ power-chords have the epic sway of, say, Cobain on Bleach or Buzzo on Houdini, thundering but melodic. It’s a sound they flirt with throughout – early Seattle sludge mixed with equal parts Black Flag, Helmet and The Jesus Lizard.
Then, speaking of that, there’s “Rasputin.” This is going to be a love or hate moment for most of you. The song is vintage, Shot-era Jesus Lizard, so much so that those of you who hate it will say it borders on parody. But I fall in the love it camp, calling it more homage than anything. These guys are clearly 2015’s answer to Scratch Acid and the Austin and Chicago pig-fuck and noise-punk scenes of the mid-80s, and they respect their forebears. The fact that the song’s muted-creeping-guitar verses crib from Denison or the drum patterns suggest Mac in his heyday does not take anything away from the fact that the song goddamn rocks.
So, verdict? Go west, young men and turn your eyes to Reno! Just be careful not to get kicked in the teeth. “Bone Voyage” is a killer.