A few years ago I got a package from the Perpetual Motion Machine label containing a bunch of LPs and a promo CD packed away almost secretly between everything. That album ended up being the one that moved me most out of everything in that mailing, and the music still stays with me in constant rotation to this day.
The album was “Gambling on the Richter Scale” by San Francisco-based sludge wailers Kowloon Walled City, and its impact has followed me for three years, as many of the songs from that effort still dot my outdoor walk/run playlist, most notably the crushing song “Diabetic Feet.” They also have a track on that album called “Annandale,” that immediately made me think of my love for Steely Dan, just because of that band’s reference points. Clearly there was no other similarity between the two bands.
Ever since their 2009 debut dropped, the band’s been relatively quiet, with the exception of split releases with Fight Amp in 2010 and Thou this year, but as far as a new platter of Kowloon material, there didn’t seem to be much movement. Yet several weeks back, an e-mail from Brutal Panda indicated a new full-length was on its way before the close of 2012, and if you’re as excited about this news as I was, you can get your mitts on it next week. The promo followed not long afterward, and ever since, I’ve been immersed in “Container Ships” and remembering what it was about this band that led me to believe they were a glimmering hope in a metal world that had become inundated with pretenders and imitators. That hope remains bright as ever.
“Container Ships” might take a little while to warm up to, as it’s a subtle record, Yes, it has it tumultuous, shake-you-to-your-core moments, as we’ve come to expect from Kowloon Walled City, but they also take their time, sets moods, and breathe in ambiance. The reason you may need time is that there’s so much to explore that one listen is not bound to be incredibly revelatory. Returns visits, however, help peel back the many layers. The band — guitarist/vocalist Scott Evans, guitarist Jon Howell, bassist Ian Miller, drummer Jeff Fagundes — have carved out a recognizable sound for themselves, which isn’t easy in today’s world, and they remain an undiscovered treasure by so many metal consumers. Maybe this will change that.
If you’re unfamiliar with the band to this point, reference points are easy and difficult. Yes, you can hear some pieces of Neurosis, the Melvins, KEN mode, Unsane, and even aforementioned Fight Amp, but their sound is not an amalgamation of those parts. Those bands are just there as influences or starting points, but Kowloon Walled City’s sound is their own, and they are not a slave to any one path. That’s another thing I find so refreshing about this band.
“The Pressure Keeps Me Alive” greets you with tricky guitars, an even-keeled pace, and trademark throaty howling from Evans, whose voice never rages out of control yet always maintains a unique identity. “50s Dad” kicks up some grit and, it would seem, some sarcasm. While Evans is howling things like, “Try to dress like a man,” with tongue seemingly in cheek, the rest of the band lathers you with punches and kicks. A fitting arrangement indeed. “Beef Cattle” drubs and pummels from the start, as the vocals get a little angrier, and the rest of the guys keep things simple but quaking. This is an example of the band not trying to do too much and being more effective for it.
The title cut is a center point of sorts, where the album treads water slowly and deliberately, lulling you into the madness and setting the stage for the more volcanic second half of the album. That leads toward “Cornerstone,” that contains some interesting guitar work from Evans and Pace, a nice bit of spaciousness at times, and some damaged, off-course mangling when the song draws to its conclusion. “Wrong Side of History” is aggravated and thorny, as the fellows take a deep dive into the mud and come up with one of the ugliest cuts on here. “We’re already there,” Evans shouts, in reflection of the thoughts sparked by the song title, and the close is an act of complete demolition. “You Don’t Have Cancer” splits its time between mid-tempo floating and fiery artillery rounds, as the band unleashes a galloping assault toward the end of the cut, making like the soundtrack to buildings collapsing one by one. It’s a total, unforgiving assault.
Hopefully “Container Ships” leads to Kowloon Walled City being better known and respected in the underground metal community, because they deserve it. They don’t reinvent the wheel or anything, but what they do they do extremely well, and they seem to just be getting better as time goes on. This should be an awesome album to get you out of the doldrums after a shitty day when all you want to do as scream at someone, but you don’t have the words. These guys have you covered.
For more on the band, go here: http://inthewalledcity.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://brutalpandarecords.com/shop/kowloon-walled-city-container-ships-12-vinyl/
For more on the label, go here: http://brutalpandarecords.com/