Portland-based HEX Records are well-tapped into the scene. They put out my absolute favorite album of 2020, Gaytheist‘s snarky wild mathcore/punk juggernaut How Long Have I Been On Fire. Now, they’re pushing this unearthly beast of a debut album from STILL/FORM. Oh boy, this trio is a tour-de-force! A new name on the street, yet old faces in the scene. Guitarist/vocalist, Robert Comitz used to ravage the ears in MARRIAGE + CANCER. Bassist/back-up vocalist Kirk Evans has made his sludgy tone known in the doomy atmospheric sounds of Dark Numbers. Completing this unholy supergroup is drummer Ryan Losli of the post-black-metal outfit ireshrine. It all begs the question: Portland, what are they putting in the water?!? Check out the music video for “Gums”, the most ghoulish/hellish song to ever tuck in a bass solo, and see what I mean.
Now that’s what I call a waltz! And let me just lavish some praise on that scratchy-scratchy riff at 1:49. That’s the kind of teeth guitarists need to be biting us with. Chomping at the ears. At so many places on this record, I was reminded of my favorite guitar-terrorizers.
The eerie dissonant melodies and groovy breakdowns give me flashbacks to Korn‘s more ferocious output. Life is Peachy was wholly unhinged at some points! Scroll around STILL/FORM‘s Instagram and see if you can find the haunting face of Daughters‘ “Empty Glass” pedal by Fuzzrocious. Also, undoubtedly an inspiration. Then there’s the feral nature of the guitar playing (combined with the raging rhythm section) that evokes the first couple Young Widows albums. P.S., Old Wounds is an underrated masterpiece, and I have to use any opportunity I get to divert attention to it.
That’s probably enough comparisons, let’s cut into the rotting meat of this album. First off, hella strong opening with the title track. The brisk 5/4 groove pulls you through the song like a rollercoaster in a haunted house. Setting the tone, it foreshadows all the thick dirty bass, raw drumming, noisy strumming, and anguished spoken-word/screaming to come.
“Pigs End” goes even further into madness. I love the call-and-response arrangement in the post-chorus with the guitar ascending from hell and bass sliding quarter notes back down into it, as Comitz warns that ‘there’s always more to burn‘. It hits just as hard as some of the bone-chilling refrains on You Won’t Get What You Want.
Putting stress on the upbeats doesn’t necessarily make your song upbeat, as proved by the following track, “Unhung.” There’s a pattern slowly forming, with each song taking the outro passages into new terror-torries. This track takes it a step further and effortlessly slips right into the next song, “Loyal, Like Dogs”. The 7/4 sans-cymbals beat, post-punk bass line, and siren-like guitar droning make for a sick intro. The tension finally pops with a catchy four-chord style chorus that’s got me doing chores around the apartment, grumbling, ‘Die orderly/Obedient‘ even if I’m not sure about the lyrics. You guys need to release a lyrics sheet somewhere! That might be my biggest qualm with this album. The vocals tend to be a little shy in the mix, and consequently the lyrics become difficult to discern.
I know this album’s got some good one-liners too. Like on “Dead Check”, where the whole song dive-bombs into the grave as Comitz asks ‘How’s six feet for you?/How’s six feet of cold ground?‘. It’s amazing how this song reminds me of a possessed Kurt Cobain after gargling some bleach. Evil-grunge.
The album runs its final stretch with a trio of tracks that might taper off in length but not in aggression. “I Live, You Die” sounds like cross between IDLES and Daughters with its post-punk groove and high octave chords. I love the snappy ending that leaves you with what sounds like a dark cloud in sonic form. Transitioning seamlessly into “God Will Understand Why You’re Horny For Kids” as a call-and-response noise during the verses. The title of the song is pretty on the nose, so you know what you’re in for. “Hydrate” wraps things up quickly, like a joyride spiraling off a bridge. The breakdown swinging around the two-minute mark is one of the best on the whole album.
From the Rot Is a Gift is a concise 9 songs clocking in at just over a half-hour. Part of me would’ve liked one more song or interlude in the middle to break up the auditory onslaught. At the same time, it’s just so relentless from start to finish that you’ve got to admire it. It’s like what metal sounds like to my parents. It’s just the thing to put on at the gym after chugging a ladle of crack. You’re on the elliptical sprinting away multi-mouthed Mothman baby on the cover art.