Double Play: Old Man Gloom & Liberteer

Two album reviews: a highly promising debut and a triumphant return from an eight-year absence.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

Old Man Gloom: No

Hydra Head Records

Up from the 36 Chamberrrrrrs!!

Well no not actually, but it has been eight years since the crustiest bitch in extreme music woke up and beat the kids. Where’s Old Man Gloom been for eight years? Who knows? Out stealing Halloween candy from kids, maybe slapping the occasional child that knocked a baseball into his yard. Regardless it’s been awhile and extreme music has been in dire need of a slapping. Now the old beast returns. Angrier, heavier, meaner than ever and with a new offering titled, effectively, No.

If you chop Old Man Gloom up his parts become that of a super group. Aaron Turner who was once a part of the mighty Isis, Nate Newton who rocks it with Converge as well as bringing his own brand of heavy with Doom Riders, Caleb Scofield of Cave In and Zozobra is part of the clique as is fellow Zozobra member Santos Montano. When they come together these guys form like Voltron if Voltron was a psychopathic old man who had lived in darkness for years until it was time unleash his embittered hell on an unsuspecting world.

Reformed in their bitter Voltron, how has Old Man Gloom aged? If No is any indication, they are doing just fine. So now I get to describe what No sounds like. Okay, sure, let me dig into my bag of metaphors and whip some shit out. It’s like jerking off with razor wire? The album is like wrapping yourself in cellophane and then jumping into a river of glue? Imagine the audio interpretation of a planet falling on your skull but you welcome it because the voices in your head, which have formed a feedback and noise project, will finally die. How do those grab you?

No is all of those things and more. As Old Man Gloom is more a recording project than a band, No is more an artistic statement than a record. The album opens with silence that’s accessorized with creepy and haunting electronics. Think of John Cage and John Cage beating the shit out of the Pet Shop Boys. Then the bursting happens, the heavy bursting of saturated guitars and crusty vocals. “Common Species” is an eight-minute opus, a moving hive of varied buzz saw bass and crashing guitars. The drums sound as if the drummer was forced to play as he was pushed down a flight of stairs. It’s a chaotic mess but a controlled chaos. 

“Regain/Rejoin” is the old man’s full on psychotic break. It sounds like a psychotic break. Think of what that might sound like and then put this song on. I bet you’ll say “Fuck, yeah, he’s right.”. The bombardment of bombastic chaos continues unabashed. Old Man Gloom doesn’t so much play a song as they rip it pieces and then beat those pieces to dust. You feel slightly violated, which is a good thing.

Then “Shadowed Hand” hits. This is a ten-minute jam that gently lulls you into a sense of complacency with the staggered guitar plucking and the tiny electronics. About five minutes in it does two bars of some kind of horror movie theme where a monster attacks and then goes silent. Two minutes before the end it explodes into a screaming attack. No offers up a few more tracks that fuck with our sense of song structure before they mix it all into one black soup. The fourteen-minute “Shuddering Earth” takes all that Old Man Gloom has done during the course of the record and grinds it together. It’s more of a “fuck you we might kill you” than the end of an album.

I have no idea if you will like this record. I do, I love it, I think it kicks all kinds of ass. I’m also not stupid. Not everybody wants their music to be filled with experimentation and weird segues. You might want the sweet wintery freshness of a band like Avenged Sevenfold. You might dictate that your metal has moshy parts and big breaks for fist pumping. If that’s you, then go be you, but I don’t know how you’ll vibe with No. If, on the other hand, you like music that rattles your cage and expands the parameters of an art form, then dive right into the rusty razors and formaldehyde pool that is Old Man Gloom and their album No. 

Liberteer: Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live on Your Knees

Matthew Widener. Lets get this young man’s resume out of the way. In the 1990’s he played in Exhumed, then formed the County Medical Examiners and plays in Cretin with singer Marissa Martinez, probably the only transgender front person in extreme metal. While Cretin lays lows, Mr. Widener has taken his political grindcore band Citizen, changed the name to Liberteer and submerged himself in the thick sludge of anarchy. Liberteer’s debut is titled Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live on Your Knees and it is a remarkable testament to this young man’s talent.

First off, Widener handles all the musical duties here. Drums, guitars, bass, vocals and samples. More impressive than that is he has constructed an album that repeats musical motifs and themes. This isn’t some random blast-beat driven descent into anarchistic insanity but rather a well-constructed use of chaos to deliver a battle cry. Widener isn’t subtle about his politics either. Song titles like “Class War Never Meant More Than It Does Now” or “We Are Not Afraid Of Ruins” say upfront that Widener is looking to burn the system to the ground. 

Musically the work going on within Liberteer is fascinating. The opening track, “The Flacon Cannot Hear The Falconer” (taken from a W.B.Yeats poem) is an instrumental comprised of triumphant horns, banjo guitars and strings. It sounds like the theme of a solider from early America heading into battle. “Build No System” erupts out of that and the grindcore movements begin in rapid succession. It’s interesting that Widener also composes classic music because he uses each blast of Better To Die as a small part of an intricate machine. 

There is not real way to dissect the tracks on Better To Die because Widener has composed one long musical movement. Each song pushes into the next and if you listen to them out of order the themes and ideas get lost. The work on Better To Die feels like a novel. Widener has an overall arc, a story he needs to get across. The songs are chapters in that book. Each chapter is surprisingly good but not nearly as impactful as the completed story. Better To Die is surprising not just because it’s so involved but it is also catchy as hell. When was the last time you heard a grindcore album that had riffs you could really cling to? I even dig Widener’s voice. It’s a desperate mix of hatred and disillusionment. 

Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees reminds me that music can be used to inspire revolution. As urban decay gives way to suburban sprawl, the identity and integrity of America is absorbed into the teeth filled womb of corporate shopping and chain restaurants. Most of us jaded bastards have given up even trying to battle the system. We sit in our rooms and listen to records, shouting to whoever will listen that it was much better when we were young punks. Better To Die On Your Feet Than Live On Your Knees kicks that laziness right in the sack and screams into our faces that change only comes when we fight for it.