As a fan of things slow and heavy, I have been eagerly awaiting the next Black Sheep Wall release since their 2013 release It Begins Again. Unfortunately, this last EP saw the departure of their vocalist Trae Malone, and the uncertainty of what to expect next from the Californians – once aptly termed as “slowed-down Converge” – had me worried about the band’s future. Many bands struggle when they find themselves lacking a frontman. Luckily the scene was still alive and kicking, with their label mates Admiral Angry and the French, similarly sludgy Love Sex Machine – a nice little triangle of angry and desperate music – however none of them have been active in terms of new material since said release. I could only enjoy feeling bleak and suicidal for so long listening to old material until it all just started to sound the same.
Suddenly, Black Sheep Wall came back happier than ever before, with a fair bit of hype surrounding ‘White Pig’, the first song off their new record I’m Going to Kill Myself. It was then made apparent that the vocal duties were taken over by their bassist Brandon Gillichbauer, who showed a slightly different style from Malone, somewhat cleaner and yet still harsh in the high end; more akin to Admiral Angry’s Chris Lindblad. The new track also gave us a sneak peek at the album cover art, which is undoubtedly disturbing, holding true to the band’s ugly aesthetic.
What they’re probably not particularly happy about is seeing the dreaded “-core” tag that was unnecessarily thrown around in some quarters regarding that single. It’s angry, heavy, sludgy, nearly ten minutes long and has a fantastic choral ending that naturally breaks down into ear-ringing noise. There is absolutely nothing “-core” about that, and one can only hope that this upsets the band to a boiling point, where they put out an even angrier release just to silence the cynics.
As well as having their most unsettling album title yet, I’m Going to Kill Myself is Black Sheep Wall’s longest release to date, totalling just over an hour – that’s a lot of anger in one sitting. It is, however, structured in such a way that it doesn’t hit the listener all at once, with a slowly evolving ten minute “intro” featuring a deceptively calm and melodic guitar line, and a head-nodding triple time rhythm. Its ending is particularly tense, as it establishes the overall atmosphere of the following track, ‘Tetsuo The Dead Man’, a song which is significantly far from an “easy listening” experience. It’s really difficult not to draw this comparison but the amount of heavy syncopation, the odd time signatures, and quite simply the impossibility of keeping count of the song’s rhythm, somehow make for a more enjoyable grooving session than other, more technical bands who rely on these very concepts.
The inevitability of having a sixty minute, four-track album with three ten-minute-long songs leaves the listener having to embark on a final half-hour epic ride, with most of it revolving around the repetition of a single note. The final track is quirkily named after one of the Big Four thrash metal bands, somehow reminding me of the oddly-named ‘Clubfoot by Kasabian’ by fellow noisemakers Blacklisters. Lasting just over 33 minutes – coincidentally reminding me of Meshuggah’s continuous suite Catch 33 – ‘Metallica’ is as monotonous and confusing as it is drawn-out, with a drum section that I still can’t quite decipher after multiple listens. The random blast beats and background noise make it seem as if it were a live improvisation, with the piece eventually decaying into the musical version of a mental breakdown as Brandon screams “I’m just so fucking bored”. The music suddenly stops, making room for an inaudible spoken word section, only to immediately go back to the borderline-insane one-note adventure.
The utter sonic degeneration that is I’m Going to Kill Myself ends with just that, the repetition of the album title in the very last section of the final track. It’s a fitting conclusion to a release carrying heavy emotional weight, making the full hour that much more absurd. Despite its inaccessibility, Black Sheep Wall have made a remarkable album, and I will certainly be giving it many more spins, at least until the next bleak, psychotic and suicidal release comes out.