‘Hey man, wanna see a dead body?‘
For many, these rattling lyrics that open Intercourse‘s Halo Castration Institute will reference Stand By Me, a classic premature coming-of-age drama, but for me, I’ll always hear it and think of Boys N The Hood, another certified classic. Where each movie centers around the very, VERY different lives of youth and growing up, Tarek Ahmed’s delivery of the line is anything but innocent – in fact, it’s devoid of it and all common decency, though not by choice. There’s a sense of dread to all of this album, like you just walked into the throes of a man who had just seconds ago snapped, the lively glint gone from his eyes, blood leaking from the forehead after kissing the wall with it a few too many times. It’s the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia Pepe Silvia rant of modern rock music.
Even the cover art has the color palette of an old Salad Fingers cartoon, bleak dreariness that borders on the abstract. It seems to depict that very line, showing a few kids(?) of varying ages looking onto a cartoonishly deformed corpse washed up at a lake’s shoreline. There’s a perverted glee on two of their faces, the other’s contorted into a look that seems to convey disgust as it prods the head of the body with a stick. Welcome to the Halo Castration Institute.
Intercourse make unhinged hardcore/noise rock – the kind that’s weeks off its meds with no consulting therapist in sight; just depression memes, doomscrolling, a single-digit bank account, and living in our Western society, which would honestly be enough to drive anyone insane by itself. Comparisons are drawn to Chat Pile, and understandably so, but, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Intercourse have a lick more intensity and extremity in its delivery. Ahmed’s vocal timbre is either a full-throated, enunciated bellow or villainous yelling through gritted teeth – no in-between. Anything else you hear is someone else (Pete Kowalsky of Ether Coven and Remembering Never guests on “I Need Saturday Off So I Can Play A Teenager’s Basement” and Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean‘s mostly anonymous vocalist comes through on “Kabristan”).
Instrumentation is resolute, the only sense of order you’re afforded on this whole 23-minute album. Where they maintain melodies and rhythms – some of which are actually quite sweet, like the Alice In Chains, dirty grunge-esque riff in “The Iceman’s Tears” – Ahmed hardly ever rhymes lyrics or structures his vocals in any sort of metered skeleton. This creates a dichotomy, but the menace-laced instrumentation is very much fitting to the diatribes coming from your speaker. “Heemeyer’s Hammer”, a song that references one of the weirdest crime sprees in US history, let alone my home state of Colorado, is markedly more anxious with its sludged-up melodies than others, which is saying something. Hardcore seeps out the pores of the aforementioned “I Need Saturday Off…” and “Skin Walker Brothel” with violent drums and quickened guitars, but it’s the melancholic angles that ultimately win it out for me – “Where Losers Go to Die” and “The Passion Of Jesus Christ Allin” are hard to beat.
Also, how about these song titles? Holy shit. Those aren’t even the best ones either. My faves are “My Own Personal 9/11” and “George Soros Funded”, the former being a critical beatdown of fashy QAnon Alex Jones chugging Conservative types, and clout chasing fake woke brunch liberals who thought everything bad went away when Trump left office alike. Actually, Ahmed calls the latter group ‘Disney liberals‘ in the song which is absolutely fantastic – I know a few of those. “George Soros Funded” is a Fox News ticker headline turned tongue-in-cheek laceration against people afraid of any sense of societal progress. The best quotable is, ‘Oogey boogey boomer!! Oogey boogity boo!! It’s Antifa!! They’re gonna tax billionaires, pay people a living wage, and give them healthcare!‘ But my number one fave is from “Hollywood, Florida”: ‘If you can’t handle me at my Ted Kaczynski, honey, you don’t deserve me at my Chuck Bukowski.‘
The most common recurring theme with Halo Castration Institute is death, which shouldn’t be so surprising given how it opens up. “Where Losers Go to Die” is especially pensive and would even be poetic at times if it were on any sort of rails vocally. There’s a tinge of pain and surrender when Ahmed sings (yells), ‘I was led to believe there was a peace that came with age, but the older I grow the more I unravel to the point where all that’s left is being depressed. So, I ask if all there is is black then why wait?‘ It’s like his, or the portrayed character’s, soul folded in on itself and gave up, waving a white flag in the air with one foot already in the grave. The song comes full circle when he says, ‘Anyways, here’s that corpse I promised to show you,‘ and then agonizing screams to close out the song, implying he was the corpse he invited us to see all along. My eyes widened at the realization.
To that end, Intercourse have constructed a very specific deluge of uniquely American experiences, each one more insane than the last, almost all based in some sort of hard reality. Its manifesto-like intensity and delivery grips you by the short hairs and spins you around the room until you fly into the wall like a ragdoll, wasted and spent from the hellscape we occupy where all that’s left is a bloody mess someone else will begrudgingly clean up. Music like this slits the throat of positivity, but what it lacks in answers and change, it makes up for with heart and the relatable knowledge that we suffer together. It’s someone giving you a thumbs-up with a toothless grin with a black eye shining behind it. I don’t know a single person that couldn’t relate to at least one aspect of Halo Castration Institute, music taste aside. I can’t one-up this band with some grand closing statement, so I think I’ll end it with some choice lyrics from “I Need Saturday Off…”
‘Something’s fucked when you’ve worked six days a week your entire adult life, but still need to take out a loan to keep your house warm. It’s not just bad decisions, it’s capitalism, and I’ve shoveled enough of this shit to know the difference.‘
Band photo by Alexandra Esteves