Batillus enter industrial age, stay buried in doom chaos on great ‘Concrete Sustain’

Hearing a young band grow and morph as their time together goes on can be one of the most exciting things about listening to music. At the same time, it also can be one of the most frustrating, depending on where you stand and how the band progresses. Not all change is good, remember.

For example, I recently got a promo from a band whose last album was a revelation to me and was one of my favorite records of that particular calendar year. The new one could not have been a bigger disappointment to me. They went from a band I eagerly wanted to follow into the future to one that I don’t care what they do from here. It took that much wind out of my sails. I am being secretive because the album isn’t out until late April and I haven’t written a review yet. And I hold out hope that maybe my opinion changes, though after multiple listens, my distaste is actually growing.

Batillus coverOn the other hand is Batillus, whose “Furnace” was one of my favorite records of 2011 and who became one of my go-to bands in the process. That means they’re on pretty constant rotation in my ears. Anyhow, when word of their new record “Concrete Sustain” came down, my enthusiasm and excitement were through the roof because there would be new music from a band I’ve very much come to love. Then that moment arrived when I finally got to hear their second full-length, and immediately I didn’t know what to do with it. It was so markedly different from “Furnace” that it seemed like a completely different band had created it. It was bizarre and a little unsettling. What was this? Where was the fantastic, thought-provoking, sludging doom band that had blown me away? Turns out, it was still there.

“Concrete Sustain” was not an easy first listen for me. Or second. Or third. In fact, I don’t even know what visit with this record was the one that opened my eyes, but I did finally awaken, like I had been ripped from my bed by a thunder clap in the night. The sound on this record is heavily industrially influenced. If you think back to early-day Ministry and even Nine Inch Nails when hearing this, you likely won’t be alone. Now, it’s not entirely that route as they still are firmly entrenched in the doom camp as well, but when those two continents of sounds meet, it’s devastating. And if you’re like me and it doesn’t totally feel right at first, give it time. My guess is it’ll sink in over time and eventually overpower you like it did to me.

The lineup remains intact from “Furnace,” that being guitarist Greg Peterson, bassist Willi Stabneau, drummer Geoff Summers, and vocalist/effects specialist Fade Kainer, who has, hands down, the largest influence on this record of any of the members. Actually, Summers’ drumming and some of the interesting stuff he does here behind the kit would be second, but Kainer’s work installing the dusty industrial drapery and effecting, mutating, and digitally twisting his vocals really stand out as major factors in what makes Batillus so different–and so fresh–on “Concrete Sustain.”

The record opens with an utter piledriver in “Concrete,” complete with stuttered drum beats that cut through the piece and keep you alert, sludgy, chopped riffing, squeals, and Kainer’s devastating, monstrous vocals that practically roar in your face. This is mean and crushing stuff. From there, it’s on to “Cast,” where the industrial bruising and sense of brutality via factory come into play. The melody line, especially the bass, proves infectious, and Kainer again hauls off with his approach, but in a way where he sounds authoritative, not out of control. Another great track. “Beset” changes things up a bit, with slurry guitars, a hint of grunge, manically deep growling, and a nasty darkness-laden finish that makes this the truest example of doom metal on the whole record. It slithers like a river of mud.

“Mirrors” has a slow, slurry start, but eventually mechanical interference and blips kick in, giving it a robot makeover, and warm keys trickle in to offer some comfort. Then they rip the rug right out from under you and pound on your senses again. “Rust” starts with a thick bassline and a deep serving of muck before it evolves into a loopy guitar line that sounds cartoonish. Not in a bad way. In a total devolution into lunacy kind of way. The tempo feels more like hard rock, though it has its killer moments, and Kainer makes his presence felt both through keys, effects, and his mammoth yelp. Closer “Thorns,” the longest track at 8:52, will blow your mind. It’s awash in gothic haze, like Sisters of Mercy, Kainer unleashes a deep, clean bellow encased in misery (though he shrieks along with himself through much of this), and the band delves into deathrock mode, showing a side to themselves I didn’t realize existed. It’s an astonishing display, one that shows just how deep these guys are as musicians.

This is a ridiculously huge step ahead for these guys, who probably could have kept producing the same type of stuff they did on “Furnace” to much acclaim. But that obviously wouldn’t have made them happy, so they followed their dark muse and created another scorching masterpiece, one that sounds like nothing they’ve created before. Batillus are one of metal’s most exciting, creative bands, and no one could possibly imagine what terrain they’ll explore next.

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