Raspberry Bulbs, ‘Deformed Worship’ – Album Review
The idea of black metal branching out and becoming more accessible has both positive and negative implications. It's the same thing that happened to psychedelic rock, punk, hardcore, folk and rap. Looking at a teenager today and trying to figure out if he likes indie or EDM is more difficult than you would think, as both have been stripped of any counter-cultural significance and reduced to something that blends neatly into the mainstream norm.
The good thing, though, is that some of the best music takes the underground to the masses. As Deafheaven, Liturgy and now Raspberry Bulbs shine their lights from deep in the black metal tunnel, it doesn't necessarily mean we should seek to stop their approaching trains -- provided we even could.
Raspberry Bulbs would hate this lead-in, as they don't want to be associated with any one genre and actually deny the black metal label altogether. And rightfully so, as the New York City fivesome adapts many of the genre's trademarks and employs others -- like the banshee scream -- only sparingly. Of course, the best way to get people talking about genre is to take an anti-genre stance.
On 'Deformed Worship,' the Bulbs' sophomore release, frontman Marco del Rio shifts comfortably between a sneering punk yell and a death growl, though the piercing high-pitch sound of his black metal past surfaces briefly on 'By the Root,' obscured by a time signature that is jarring and uncomfortable. Sonically, it might make sense to use the band's post-hardcore and metal leanings as a basis for classification, but Rasberry Bulbs also sound like the Stooges, if you squint hard enough. And if you really want to have fun, you can find traces of Joy Division buried deep in the the barrage of aggression.
Though 'Deformed Worship' is abrasive as all hell, the lyrics read like nearly illegible scrawl, and musically, the song structures and chord progressions are similarly disconcerting and unfamiliar. Opener 'Cracked Flesh' presents the band as a cousin to Iceage and other recent punk/post-punk/metal amalgamations. The band often uses repetition, and on 'When a Lie Becomes the Truth,' the crystal-meth-factory guitars are almost maddening in their ability to induce anxiety. But like most of Raspberry Bulbs' songs, it changes shape multiple times in a very short time span, creating a sort of time-lapse effect. Short songs are exhausting and feel longer than they are in reality. And the longer songs are even more challenging.
Since 'Deformed Worship' clocks in at just 30 minutes, Raspberry Bulbs' ability to maintain their intense energy for the entire album isn't really that impressive. It is, however, a crucial quality if this group is going to work. On closer 'I Was Wrong,' the closest they come to a catchy song, it's easy to imagine the Bulbs' live show. With that comes the realization that they're not breaking as much ground as they think they are, but nevertheless, the listener wants to go to that show. People probably get crazy and hurt each other.
While it might be a while before the black metal train arrives, make no mistake: It is coming, and in 10 years, when it's sold back to us as a nostalgia trip to the '10s, Raspberry Bulbs may land their logo on mass-produced t-shirts, a la Minor Threat.