It is 2016, the year of our Lord, and Agoraphobic Nosebleed have effectively traded in the gonzo cybergrind and powerviolence style (if only for the moment) in favor of Sabbath-worshiping doom and sludge on Arc, the first in a series of “solo” records representing each of its four members. Those still mourning the loss of frontwoman Katherine Katz’ former band Solome will be delighted to hear her return to doom, but there’s a certain expectation that comes along with the ANb title, and for better or worse, this ain’t it.
In fact, save for common personnel (Scott Hull, Katz, and Superior Drummer software), there’s not much on Arc that could be considered in the ballpark of the Agoraphobic Nosebleed sound developed during previous LP Agorapocalypse. This is a band that has a discography filled with sub-minute songs that are fast, chaotic, and (lately) filled with gratuitous shred guitar; historically, the band has even released a 20-minute 100-track record, Altered States Of America. Two of the band’s members, vocalists Richard Johnson and J. Randall don’t even make an appearance on Arc.
It could be argued that Arc is essentially the antithesis of the ANb legacy. Arc is relatively slow (and gets slower as it progresses) and gradually shifts through structured epic-length songs with purpose. These three new tracks, which average a length of nine minutes each, present with thick, catchy blues riffs that could easily have found themselves at home in the Black Sabbath discography and in the good company of modern acts such as Crowbar. All things considered, Arc isn’t even that chaotic; one might even go as far as to call it respectable in its tone, structure, and presentation. Hell, opening track “Not A Daughter” has a chorus that pops up more than once.
This isn’t to say that the shift isn’t a welcome one. The duo of Katz — whose piercing shriek makes it known that Arc is her territory to defend — and Hull — still the best riff machine in metal — are absolutely adept at the sound, which should come as no surprise given Katz’ work in Solome and Hull’s flirtation with doom on several occasions with Pig Destroyer. Really, it was only a matter of time before this happened, and there’s no way this was going to turn out to be anything less than spectacular.
Perhaps there’s too much emphasis on whatever ANb “should” be, rather than what they are. After all, the act keeps booking previously unheard-of live shows, and as far as I know, they’ve yet to take the deposit and not show up. Hopefully the release of the rest of the ANb solo records will provide for some further context in which a sludge iteration of the outfit makes sense, but regardless of where you stand on the subject of its release as an Agoraphobic Nosebleed record, Hull and Katz’ work together on Arc is an undeniable credit to the genre and should definitely be explored further, perhaps with Randall and Johnson in the mix.
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