Since releasing their first tape in 2000, the Body have become one of the most interesting and difficult to pin down groups in extreme music. Although the duo started out as a fairly straightforward sludge-metal group, playing protracted, foot-slogging paeans to depression, they’ve evolved into an experimental polyglot of electro, industrial, hip-hop and noise – more meta than metal. They nevertheless stayed rooted in heavy music, recording well-received collaboration albums with underground metal firebrands like the black-metal band Krieg, doom crew Thou and grindcore group Full of Hell, adding a little mechanical heft to each of their collaborators’ sounds and even improving on them.
Making music on their own, however, is another matter. While the Body work with a far wider musical palate than their riff-worshipping contemporaries, they sometimes get lost in the world of possibility. Their last proper full-length, No One Deserves Happiness, found them balancing dark melodies and sheer aggression (band member Chip King screeches endlessly at unexpected moments), but it was also disorienting – which may well have been the point.
Their latest, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer. (a title that paraphrases Virginia Woolf’s suicide note and includes what seems to be a very important period at the end of it, based on how gloomy the music sounds), is even more bewildering. Its closest musical relatives are middle-era Swans, when Michael Gira and Jarboe went goth, the Godflesh side project Techno Animal, which verged on scratchy hip-hop, and the constantly exhaling atmospheres of David Lynch’s Eraserhead – all with a dash of classical music. While there are moments of incredible beauty, such as orchestral strings and operatic vocals by Lingua Ignota singer Kristin Hayter on “Nothing Stirs,” they’re often juxtaposed with grating noise.
The quality that’s most important to each song is texture: galloping drums, the sound of escaping steam, white noise, throbbing electro beats and fluttering strings. It’s mood music (bad-mood music, to be exact) and, despite coming from a band called the Body, it’s largely formless; much of the time the songs just seem to end. Then there’s the matter of King’s screech, a persistent annoyance, not because it’s screaming but because it never changes in pitch. It’s a monotonous assault on your ears. The album closer, “Ten Times a Day, Every Day, a Stranger,” lasts eight minutes and contains a miserable monologue by a low-voiced man, exclaiming that he’d reached the “peak of emptiness” and that “the whole world hurts,” amid melancholy piano. Listening to it, it’s easy to think that if the Body haven’t voluntarily entered catatonic states by the time the LP came out, it would be a miracle.
But when the experiment works – such as on “Can Carry No Weight,” which features Hayter singing Middle Eastern–sounding vocals and sighing strings, or on “The West Has Failed,” which is like doom metal compounded with dub reggae, or the gentle piano-and-violin ballad “Blessed, Alone” or the album’s standout, “Nothing Stirs,” when Hayter sings, “When your love is gone, what is left?/At night a prayer of death, at day a curse of life” – it’s some of the most captivating heavy music around right now. Maybe the Body’s message is to hold onto those fleeting moments of happiness, since they don’t happen nearly often enough.