Okay folks, let’s get bleak. I mean, really bleak. In fact, let’s redefine the word bleak. Doom two-piece Last make this all too easy; on their new album All Tunnel, No Light, they explore every facet of bleakness, from its roots in desolation and sadness, through its unnerving beauty, to the lonesome emptiness it encompasses. ‘Bleak’ is one of three words that comes to mind when I think about All Tunnel, No Light – the other two are ‘terrifying’ and ‘confident’.
Let’s start with its confidence. Despite the understated beginning of opening track “Languish”, Last don’t hide their boldness for very long. Huge drum samples meet crushing, grainy synthesizers, colliding with a force almost cosmic in its greatness. A spine-chilling lead line encases this spectacular display of power, a bullet-proof exoskeleton of sweet harmonies and delays. Make no mistake – nothing will penetrate this monumental thickness of sound. Every tone on the album, every drum sample, every scream, seems fiercely calculated to provide maximum, gut-wrenching impact – even when the instrumentation is sparse, everything is deliberate. Last are not a band that do things by halves, that’s for sure. They are assured in their misery, and not afraid to show it.
Just as Last don’t fuck around with their presentation of confidence, so they have no qualms about revealing their terrifying side, either. “Rot In Heaven” starts by injecting pure, burning fear into my bones, and it doesn’t let up until its final moments. It is crushing in its simplicity, one idea that repeats over and over, yet continues to elude comfort and familiarity. Even tiny things, like the strange chomping noises that start near its end, become petrifying in their subtlety. But even though “Rot In Heaven” is unnerving and scary, it has nothing on its successor, “Tendrils”: almost entirely siren-like synths, indistinguishable screaming, 80s drum samples, and a harrowing piano line. These four elements spread such a sense of unease through my body that I can feel my stomach clench and attempt to wander up my oesophagus.
But the terror doesn’t end there. The middle three tracks are a trio of trepidation, a trinity of distress. “Rot In Heaven”, followed by “Tendrils”, and finally, the eerie horror of “Husk” – it’s pure, excruciating bleakness. And that’s not even the end of it. To me, “Living Ghosts” is the pinnacle of this album, the most brazen, clear-headed musical representation of terror through hopelessness I have heard. From its disjointed opening piano chords and minefield of distorted drums and screaming, it only becomes more fearsome with its demise into gruesome, moist panting sounds, foreboding sub drops, assertive piano, and a vocal line that is disturbing in its vulnerable clarity. “Living Ghosts” ends with a churning half-time under phased synths, which would be almost clubby were it not for the endlessly tortured harsh vocals. I honestly can’t understand a single word on the entire album, but it doesn’t matter – I think I get it all the same.
I was talking to a friend recently about his experimental two-piece music project. It’s only bass, drums, and vocals; he was telling me about how, before every live set, he records a loop of strange bass noises, run through fuckloads of delay and overdrive, to sound, as he put it, ‘like squirming maggots’, and he’ll leave this running, buried in the mix, for the entire set – just to spread a subliminal sense of discomfort. That’s what I feel Last do throughout this album, but instead of being a subtle background layer, the maggots are the size of carrots and munching quite happily at my stomach and throat.
Finally, let’s talk about bleakness. On All Tunnel, No Light (as the name so aptly implies), the bleakness is ever-present. It’s woven into the very fabric of every song, sometimes disguised as fear, or disgust, or anger, but it always comes from that place of complete, hopeless disconsolation. It’s at its most raw on the reasonably short “Pyrite”, clinging to its harpsichord-like synth tone and drawn-out vocal phrases, dripping over into the only slightly terrifying intro of “Attempt”. Terror and bleakness become fiercely intertwined on All Tunnel, almost indistinguishable at times, and what they create together is so harrowingly beautiful I feel the need to become part of it. It’s really quite amazing – I’m surprised I found something so great so early on in the year.
All Tunnel, No Light is not an easy listen. It hits you in the guts and sticks in the throat, and feasts on your insides as you try to digest it. It’s not jagged; it’s more like a throbbing ball of fuzz, sinew, and small, decaying creatures. Utterly unpleasant, but so well crafted. I’ve never heard anything quite like All Tunnel before, and maybe I won’t again any time soon, but I feel privileged to have been around to witness it.