Of all the extreme music subgenres I’ve been tasked with defending to unimpressed friends and family members, crafting a convincing argument for the qualities of noise has by far been my toughest endeavor. Whereas ambient and drone have alluring, relaxing qualities that some outside listeners can appreciate, noise often just sounds like…well, you can probably take a guess. Personally, I think the argument that people need to “get” certain music to appreciate it is usually a pretentious cop-out instead of facing the admitted bizarreness of fringe. What I will say is that, more than perhaps any genre, noise struggles with simply not having the sonic qualities that most listeners seek out, even among those who enjoy more adventurous styles. Of course, this is exacerbated by the fact that virtually no “gateway” noise music exists, or at least not in the same introductory sense of beginner albums in other genres. One minute these listeners are enjoying music with at least a semblance of rhythm and song structure, and the next, they’re being thrust into a chaotic hellscape courtesy of Merzbow or the like.
There may not be a perfect solution for this issue, but from the first time I heard Totem, I knew White Suns would be my go-to gateway band for anyone who enjoyed experimental rock and had a curiosity for the world of noise. The way the band found a shockingly perfect balance between the “noise” and “rock” in noise rock on Totem (as well as earlier albums Sinews and Waking in the Reservoir) which offers a fantastic entry point for noise’s larger body of work. This background is precisely why Conduit caught my attention, as the “hardcore noise hydra” includes members of White Suns as well as Twin Stumps, Pop. 1280 and Squad Car. Their new album Drowning Worlds is arguably a more accessible launching pad for the core tenets of noise, though this claim shouldn’t be mistaken for a diminished sense of fearlessness or straight-up abrasion. Drowning World places more emphasis on the “rock” end of the noise rock equation while still retaining everything that makes noise such a tantalizing genre for us auditory masochists.
At a lean 10 tracks and 34 minutes, Drowning World unleashes its unbridled assault in a deliberate fashion. There are, of course, shades of White Suns and the aforementioned bands throughout, with a raucous approach to noise rock with an emphasis on distortion and harsh, almost industrial components. Yet, there’s a fiery punk spirit that courses through the members’ veins, as if they listened solely to Black Flag and Big Black albums before stepping into the studio. There’s no shortage of forboding passages and noise-laden riffs, as well a general vibe that the guitars could erupt in smoke and fire at any moment. But at its core, Drowning World is a mid-paced, hardcore punk album that’s channeling as much influence from noise and noise rock as possible without losing its quasi-accessible edge. This may not be music for the faint of heart, but for those with a craving for what music’s rotten underbelly has to offer, Conduit will exacerbate that thirst in the best way possible.
After some fairly direct noise on alobum opener “Saturn,” Conduit get right to business executing this M.O. on “Hypnagog.” The track comes barreling through the speakers with a vicious thirst for blood, complete with slamming cymbals and snares enveloped by feedback-soaked guitars. The twisting, moaning guitar lick at the core of the track is straight from the Greg Ginn playbook, albeit with a slightly more modern edge. Probably the best part of the track, and the remainder of the album, is its perfect utility as head banging music despite the gratuitous amount of feedback, fuzz and general experimentation. There are grooves abound throughout the song’s runtime, particularly with a thick, crunchy bassline at its conclusion.
The album’s first proper crack at this formula proves to be a quality primer for the ensuing bombast. “End Times” sounds like an apt representation fo its namesake, and the track’s seamless devolution into the auditory abyss opening “Reducer” is a perfect dynamic shift. The latter of these tracks bends dark ambiance and feedback into a perfect build toward the albums main riff, which balances dissonant chord progressions and menacing, chugging chords. Deeper in the track list, “Parasites” is an absolute scorcher that thunders with a vibrant spirit right in line with the band’s affinity for hardcore punk. The ending to the album provides the one-two, nail driving blasts that seals the coffin doors shut on the album’s lifespan. The opening riff on “to The Tower” sounds like introductory music for an execution, and the way it matches the start-stop patterns of the rhythm section makes for one of the heaviest and most abrasive moments on the entire album. I’m a firm believer of an album prioritizing a strong conclusion, a belief Conduit clearly shares. “Zero Days” makes this point clear, with some industrial post-punk leanings that bolster the band’s obvious goal of sounding like they’re imploding. It’s an appropriately chaotic, violent end for the album’s general distaste for listeners skating by unchallenged.
Again, this isn’t your average noise album by any means; the mention of discernable guitars, bass and drums should be a clear indication of that. Yet, Conduit are barely held back by their clear roots in experimental rock and hardcore punk, and their open experimentation with the noise music spectrum allows for as perfect a warm-up as you might be able to ask for before diving into the subgenre headfirst. The core principles of sonic abrasion, loose structure and unbridled energy and volume are all on display, and throughout, there are a myriad of moments of pure noise bliss (depending on your stance on noise, of course). And for anyone already familiar/enamored with the aforementioned genres, Drowning World offers an endlessly entertaining synthesis that will undoubtedly earn a recurring spot in their rotation for this year and beyond.