Music has the tendency to be incredibly evocative on emotional and psychological levels. Sometimes it takes us to dark forests, barren deserts, long-forgotten kingdoms, and landscapes of mystery. In other instances, we are comforted by the familiar and nostalgic. That song that brings us back to the carefully catered soundtracks of nervous first dates, the album that comforted us as we processed the death of a loved one, or maybe that old, scratched CD filled with random songs we partied with our friends to. Music is an effective vehicle to propel us through our own psyches, exploring caverns of thought and imagination that are seldom so effectively realized. Not all of these evocations are pleasant, however. Like when music makes us feel like we’re swimming frantically away from a ravenous battery of starving barracuda. Buckshot Facelift live squarely in this final, most aggressive and discomfiting of camps. Prepare your ears accordingly.
It’s hard to find a more appropriate creature to compare this band of New York-based musicians to. Much like the vicious sea-dwelling carnivore name-dropped above, Buckshot Facelift’s music is relentless, vicious, brutal, incredibly aggressive and intent on consuming the listener whole. Think Napalm Death and early Pig Destroyer mixed with a healthy dose of Immolation. Consisting of members from Artificial Brain (Will Smith on some absolutely manic vocal work) and Grey Skies Fallen, Buckshot Facelift brings to the world some bludgeoning, varied, and thoroughly interesting deathgrind. Their fourth full length album, Ulcer Island, lives up to the band’s well-established reputation for brutality and originality, and may be their best work to date.
Ulcer Island is a unique and somewhat difficult piece of music to categorize. While containing some songs very obviously nestled in the grind camp, this is very far from your typical grind record. That’s mainly due to Buckshot Facelift’s uncanny knack for melding grind elements with death metal instrumentation, vocal performance and pacing into a boiling pot of hyper-aggression that creates a great deal of variation in sound. Not only are most of these tracks longer than your standard grindcore fare, they are also a good deal heftier. Rick Habeeb and Terrell Grannum’s guitars blaze through these songs in a glorious barrage of riff-filled heaviness that helps the album transcend subgenre labels into something diverse, unpredictable, and engaging. Songs like “Dustification” exemplify this approach, bringing slower, deliberate death metal elements for variations in pacing and tone, which allow the album to flex its impressive instrumental muscles outside of the standard speed trap of much modern grind.
Which is not to suggest that speed is not a point of emphasis in this record. Because that would be wholly incorrect. The album kicks off with “Ulcer Island”, which is an absolutely nasty piece of speedy grind that displays most of the traits stated above as a vicious, maniacal opening statement. The first half of the album scorches by in a fundamentally unhinged display of deathgrind mastery, with “Czech Yourself”, “Afterbirth Puzzle”, and “Burn the Baby Raper” (yeah, song titles here are pretty great) each causing eardrums to collapse in under a minute’s time. The first half of the album focuses primarily on the grind elements of Buckshot Facelift’s sound, emphasizing the speed and aggression of the style with tight performances across the band.
The grind-oriented flavor of the album shifts to a more distinctly death metal orientation around the halfway point of the record. “Comptroller Cult” serves as the first song in this stylistic shift, as death metal takes a front seat for the duration. The album’s final seven tracks each stretch over the three-minute mark, allowing the band to explore the slower, more intricately textured elements of their sound. “Don’t Hang from the Pipes”, “Dustification (End Times Version)”, and “A Trophy Cup Intoxicant” delve into this slower death metal territory in a manner reminiscent of Immolation and Breeding the Spawn-era Suffocation. This dedication to tone and texture is where the band shows its true versatility and refusal to confirm to any genre norms. “Hell Eats Repetition (Goodbye)” is an instrumental track that bleeds post-rock atmosphere and tone, as understated, eerie vocal samples permeate the background. Since we’re on that topic, let it be stated that the vocal samples here are fantastic, with samples from The Dark Knight, The Princess Bride, and Jacob’s Ladder adding humor or brevity to the songs that contain them.
The icing on the cake that is Ulcer Island is the vocal performance, taken to new heights here primarily by Will Smith of Artificial Brain, with assists from bassist Tom Anderer and guitarists Habeeb and Grannum. It is absolutely manic—filled with that brutal and bile-filled death metal “breeeeee”, hardcore barks, and unearthly howls and screams that populate the album with a wonderful mix of styles, making each song feel fresh and unpredictable. The album also utilizes vocal effects to create some barbaric soundscapes, particularly within the final minutes of “Weathered Mask of Autumn (Unearthing the Armless)” and “What Does Fergus Dream Of?”. It is an absolute masterclass in vocal range, and one of the highlights of the album.
On the whole, whether a grind/deathgrind/death metal fan, it’s hard to go wrong with Buckshot Facelift’s Ulcer Island. It is an unpredictable, interesting, engaging and thoroughly brutal listen. But more than that, it is an example of the musical adventurousness that propels bands beyond their designated subgenre trappings and into deeper levels of artistic relevance and value. Metalheads of all stripes will find something to enjoy in Buckshot Facelift’s sound, and that is an incredibly valuable quality for any band to have. While this may not be music to relax or reminisce to, it is most certainly music to admire and enjoy for exactly what it is: a vicious barracuda of a record, fully intent on drawing blood.
Ulcer Island is available April 14th via Paragon Records and can be pre-ordered via the band’s Bandcamp above.