Album Review: Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s ‘Arc’

‘Arc’ — The first of four upcoming ANb EPs

Scott Hull can do anything. That much is extremely clear while listening to Arc, the newest album by Agoraphobic Nosebleed, the long-running Massachusetts cybergrind institution. In fact, at this point, giving ANb a genre label isn’t really fair. Since Frozen Corpse Stuffed with Dope, they’ve experimented with noise on Altered States of America, powerviolence on the Domestic Powerviolence split with Apartment 213, and thrashcore on 2009’s Agorapocalypse. In addition, with his other band Pig Destroyer, Hull has experimented with doom metal (Natasha and Mass and Volume), as well as hardcore and death metal (Phantom Limb and Book Burner). All of this is just a long way of saying that Scott Hull is versatile, not content to restricting himself when it comes to songwriting.

Which is why it isn’t totally surprising that ANb has announced a series of 4 EPs that will each have a completely different sound, and will each focus on a respective member of the band: Hull, Kat Katz, Richard Johnson, and Jay Randall. Arc is the first of these EPs, focused on Katz. It’s got a sludge sound, something that Hull — who wrote all the music for the EP, as well as playing guitar and programming the drums — has never really worked with before. Nonetheless, his riffs sound totally natural, like something that staggered straight out of New Orleans. There’s a good amount of Eyehategod worship on this album, which brings me to my first criticism. While ANb have been innovators their whole career, the songs here are not a drastic reinvention of the sludge wheel. On the other hand, sludge isn’t really a genre built on progression but instead on doing the best possible with the existing formula and creating an atmosphere built on riffage.

It’s truly impressive what Scott Hull does with the drum machine. While most sludge bands benefit from the groove of a live drummer, ANb stay true to their aesthetic and use programming. For the most part, this does not come at a lack of rhythm. There are a few instances where the constraints of programming in such a raw genre are clear (the ending of “Not A Daughter” seems a bit awkward to me); but the album overall seems natural.

What pushes Arc from being a good sludge album to a great one is the vocal performance by Kat Katz, who also handled the artwork for this EP. The lyrics she has written are confrontational and direct, dismissing subtlety in favor of visceral appeal. Katz wrote them during a period while she was caring for her schizophrenic mother as she died of cancer — so you can imagine the sort of trauma and emotional stress embedded in the lyrics. Adding to the effect is Katz’s intense delivery. In a genre where the delivery of vocals is intended to be as brutal as possible, it’s sometimes disappointing to hear how many metal vocalists rely on studio effects or simply half-ass their performances. Katz is one of the best vocalists in extreme music, bar none, and this album is a showcase for her doing what she does best: annihilating her vocal cords in order to create impactful, resonant music.

Peep the album here

— Carrigan Miller