As a music critic, I’ve always strived to go beyond curation by attempting to contextualize the artists and albums I review. Of course, finding and recommending noteworthy new music is still an important part of the job, especially in today’s saturated music market. But the opportunity for deeper analysis has also grown exponentially due to listeners’ ease of access to new music (whether legally or otherwise). Yet, there are occasionally artists so different, inventive and downright exceptional, it’s difficult to classify them as anything but mandatory listening. From now on, my textbook example for this will be ••, the fantastic sophomore album from avant-mathcore duo Pound. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another contemporary album quite like this, which won’t be much of a problem given the endless replay value packed into every song.
For starters, let’s dissect the eclectic sonic palette Ryan Schutte (9 -string baritone guitar) and David Stickney (duo drumkit) work from. The thunderous core of the Schutte’s playing draws an obvious parallel to bands from the “Meshuggah tradition,” perhaps most similar to Car Bomb. Schutte then stretches beyond a solely riff-centric approach by incorporating heavy influences from grind and mathcore. Finally, Stickney’s kinetic, fluid playing helps flesh out the remaining elements of the duo’s sound, drawing on the experimental stylings of bands like Dysrhythmia and Lighting Bolt.
Given the advanced algebra theme of the track titles, it’s a bit difficult to highlight specific songs by name (though as I write this, I know I’ll likely end up trying anyway). However, there’s plenty to discuss in terms of the structures found throughout the album’s runtime. Primarily, it’s important to highlight the band’s non-linear approach to songwriting. Often times, bands in the djent/groove tradition will compose songs around an incredibly rigid pattern of chugging riffs syncopated with kick drums rolls and pushed along by a standard cymbal-snare beat. Pound never falls into the trap, instead building every track like a refined free improv jam to maximize the adventurous nature of their compositions. Even their breakdowns ebb, flow and develop, starting with a flashier version of the main pattern before dropping into a crushing, heavy beatdown.
Take the breakdown that concludes the opening track, “x-.+.+.x-.+.x-.x-.+.”. At the onset, the song is a dissonant math metal whirlwind boosted by the inherent heaviness of Schutte’s 9-string guitar. At the ~2:45 mark, Schutte and Stickney hammer out a rapidfire groove elevated by blast beats, with Schutte subtly lowering the tuning of the main riff. As soon as they pass the 3-minute mark, the riff begins to plummet into truly sludge-ridden territory, until the track’s final leg warps into a full-out bombastic slug fest. This approach makes for a breakdown that feels like a standalone highlight while also blending seamlessly with the natural progression of the track.
Pound take a similar approach on compositions throughout the album, including the two mammoth, sucker punch breakdowns that break up flurries of noodling and blast beats on “x--x-.+._-“. As awing as these breakdowns are, Schutte proves he’s more than capable of building a track around his manic work on the fretboard. “x-xx-x—x-x—x-x—” is built primarily around some incredible riffing and hypnotic, mathy grooves. Stickney also shines throughout, with a particularly dizzying percussive outburst on “–x–xxx–xx–x–xxx–xxx”.
Even on 2-minute interlude “xx .+-x”, the duo succeed at crafting their version of “respite” and providing a perfect launching point into the sweeping chaos of “x..^..x-x..^..x-x..^..x-x..^..x-“. The track has some of the most math-oriented riffs on the album and is capped off by an infectious, bouncing groove around the 3-minute mark. On the remaining equation-labeled tracks, the band continue beefing up the angular riffing and elevating the energy for an explosive finale, especially with the swamp diving breakdown that closes out “x_–+—x–.+–_x–+_–“.
Everything about ••, and Pound in general, is audacious and fiercely unique. The intersection of genres at play here makes for a dizzying display of technical prowess and blunt, pummeling intensity. There’s a broad web of comparisons to be drawn from Pound’s brand of songwriting, but overall, it’s too much its own beast to be nailed down with any one, clean descriptor. Instead, it’s simply better to press play, strap-in and prepare for one of the boldest (and best) metal albums you’ll encounter this year.
You can purchase •• on May 31, via Pound’s personal Bandcamp page or through Silent Pendulum Records.