The Residuals – Born Blind – Album Review
With grinding guitars and a lo-fi sound that meets somewhere in the middle of whatever-era of Henry Rollins music you want to select and the grindcore-metal genre, one-man machine Joshua Lykkeberg gives you zero-time to catch your breath after pushing play and starting-up “Waiting For A Cure” on the new record from The Residuals, Born Blind. I’ll put it this way…you won’t even need the entire forty-seconds of this first track to figure out what kind of album, attitude and sound you’re about to listen to. After an estimated five-years in the making…Born Blind establishes its presence felt with a heavy focus on the extreme-side of music instantly in the short burst of sonic fury that begins this new record.
For those familiar with the grindcore music-scene…or even metal-anything from the studio-perspective – you know the task of mixing this stuff ain’t easy. With Joshua at the helm of this entire project from the ground-up…he’s got an insane amount of attention to detail when it comes to writing & execution – but also in the amount of respect he’s got for adhering to the sound of the genre in its production. I mean…it’s not telling him anything new to mention the grating sound of grindcore and the typical response to it that people generally have…and a quick look at the lyrics on “Waiting For A Cure” or the song to follow, “Won’t Back Down,” pretty much confirms the fact that Joshua could probably give less than two-fucks about how many people do/don’t like the music he makes. Fact is…he’s put the labor of love into this metal monstrosity…and the main reason being because it’s no doubt exactly what he’s looking to listen to himself; nothing wrong with filling the hole in music with your own creativity. That lo-fi damn-near tinny sound of “Won’t Back Down” believe it or not, isn’t a slip in production so much as a standard part of the genre itself…the average person has a harder time with it than the dedicated fans of the style. Again…that’s not telling The Residuals anything not already known…the music is as aggressive and cutting as the lyrics and vocals…it music with a mission to be brutalizing and it takes its mission very, very seriously. Notice the skill in the guitar-solo…the innovative way Joshua plays it…you certainly can’t take anything away from the talent that this one guy has for making all this intense noise.
The rumble of guitars on “Killing The Creature” are insanely cool as the track begins…and this grind progressively goes on to be one of the most gripping cuts in the early stages of the album. Another staple of the genre/sound we’re in for is to have those guitars ever-present…the bass is in there too but believe me, as a person that’s mixed this kind of music myself – I know how hard you have to fight for it to have ANY presence in the music at all in this particular style. So…I dunno…I’m still mixed on the results of a mix like that…to me there’s a bit of a lack of definition in the entire genre of grindcore or grindcore-related music due to their love of treble and seeming hatred of low-end. I’m mixed on it because usually you’ve still got someone kicking ass on the bass and in the final mix of any given song, you’d have to be a musician yourself to hear the contribution it makes. It’s definitely a factor here as well on “Killing The Creature,” but an expected one at this point; lyrically, much the same as well in sticking with the dystopian views & bleak themes you’d expect to find in music this extreme. I’d fully admit…some genres definitely have their limitations; it’d be just as weird to hear The Residuals screaming about love as it would be to hear an R&B song raging about how fucked-up society is. Anyhow…you get where I’m coming from most-likely…it’s hard to take away points from something that recreates the sound & intentions of those that paved the path before The Residuals, but at the same time so far I’m waiting for the moment that defines this project apart from any other in similar genres. That’s where it all gets tougher…right now I’m hearing a lot of what I’ve typically heard from this dark corner of the musical universe, but I’d be the last to say I’d have any idea on how to do anything else with it other than what’s being done here. I think it’s impressive that he’s taken the time to add solos into these cuts, even at their short length…and even in moments like the end of “Killing The Creature” where it sounds like the pace is just about to get away from him like a runaway freight-train…everything snaps into place & lines up at the station exactly on time. So again…no bullshit…you probably either connect to this aggression in music or you straight-up don’t – but don’t ever knock the amount of skill and passion you hear, because that’s all real as real gets.
The difference between grindcore music and punk-metal? Very little. A razor thin margin at best. No matter what box you want to try to place The Residuals in, chances are, it’ll be reduced to rubble by the time you tried to close the lid. Then Joshua would head back to that box and burn it down. Once it was burned, he’d stomp the ashes into the dirt until there was absolutely nothing left. You feel me? Have a listen to the title-track “Born Blind” and really take this one in – it’s got one of my favorite transitions on this entire record. I mean…comparatively to the rest it practically becomes the baby-makin’ lighters-up slow-jam by the end…but in my opinion, that’s one hell of a moment in time and the switch into “Born Blind” and its instrumental final minute is pretty damn wicked to listen to. As frantic and scattered as it might ever seem like the instruments are in the most intense parts of these songs, just like on “Born Blind” you can’t ignore the fact that everything ALWAYS lines-up perfectly once the storm’s clear. Great drum sounds, absolutely freakin’ fantastic tones from the squelching guitar notes that rise above the mix…and again, that magic transition into this songs feedback-driven final minute is pure fucking GOLD. I can TRY people…and I’ll do my best right now to make the case…I can TRY to convince The Residuals to really look at the strength of this ending and suggest that there’s a future in the genre in innovative parts to the sound & evolution RIGHT HERE in “Born Blind” – but the reality is…and ALWAYS is…that these guys really dig their screaming. You ever watch it happen in front of you fifty-takes into a studio track or recording session and you’ll see the amazing toll it actually takes on a vocalist to DO what Joshua’s doing on these songs…I’ve seen everything from blackouts to puke-sessions, profuse sweating and singers tearing themselves open on shit around them to get to the extreme sound required. It’s damn near something that can HOSPITALIZE you if you’re not a seasoned veteran of the style…but believe me when I say there’s almost no talking them out of it when it comes to making an argument for more space without vocals. When I listen to the tone and character that comes out of the guitars in the last minute of “Born Blind,” personally that’s the only argument I need to hear…but I’m not the guy in control here – and if you read the lyrics of this tune…well…you’ll come to the conclusion that no one is.
I know our brothers back in British Columbia that were a part of Pest Synapse would be all over this record…I’ll have to point The Residuals out to them. Listening to the relentless fury of “Broken Hammer” reminded me of that gruesome crew…but again, appreciate that what we’re hearing here is all the work of one man. And on “Broken Hammer,” I’ll be damned but you can even clearly hear the bass in its own solo! Still the tinniest bass you’ll ever hear in your life because this style always saps the living low-end right out of it all in the final mix – BUT…that’s distinct bass nonetheless…for those out there that were wondering where it was…or IF there was. Walls of sound like these are tricky to navigate for the average listener; I can hear noticeable differences like breakdowns & solos etc…but for many people out there, even by track five they’ll be absolutely exhausted from trying to keep up with the intensity and similarities in the approach from track to track. Guitars continue to stand out the most for me here on “Broken Hammer” – I’m impressed with the amount of consistency in Joshua’s growl, rasp & gritty tone…I know it’s not easy and certainly respect the effort even if it’s far removed from my own natural tendencies for much more melodic-style vocals in other genres. In short…if there isn’t a live-tissue sample or full-on LUNG flying out of his face while he screams these behemoths, he’s doing real well.
The hardest time I had with any of these songs was probably the album’s longest cut, “Lost Inside” – and that’s largely for the alternation between parts that I thought really worked and some that didn’t. Positives begin with the instrumentation at the beginning at quite often throughout the song to follow…I dig the jangly sound of the opening chords – I dig that kind of character in tone even though it would sound strange & bendy to most. Where it gives The Residuals trouble however…is the pace and the switch in vocal-styles throughout the song…you can hear the struggle to find the right tone in the verses…and as a result, if I’m being as honest as I always am…Joshua’s flat in about 50% of the lines on this song throughout its first 3.5 minutes. What I don’t know is whether or not that’s a purposeful thing…I don’t know this particular style of music to seek anything less than perfection in its intentions…so it’d be weird for this to not be what he was looking for given that we know everything else along the way HAS been…but there’s no doubt that tone is slightly wide of the mark. I don’t want to beat on the guy because he’s clearly switching gears and giving another style a shot here on “Lost Inside” – but on the other hand, he HAS been screaming at me the entire time I’ve been listening, so I figure he’ll be able to take a bit of constructive criticism in stride. Besides…you’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the final two-minutes of “Lost Inside” – which is probably the absolute highlight of the record for me. Joshua’s solos are honestly off-the-charts RAD…I’ll be damned if I or anyone else out there could really follow or copy whatever the hell he’s actually doing…or if HE could even recreate these parts note-for-note…but does that matter? Fact is, what he’s doing on guitar is so fucking cool that you’re bound to hear something amazing in every attempt he’d ever make. Bit of mixed results for me overall on “Lost Inside” but some extremely rewarding moments in the instrumental sections.
Hey now…what did I tell ya? Joshua says exactly what I’ve been telling you all along on “Dogs Without Tales” when he screams out ‘I’ll do what I want, not what you wanna hear.’ Told ya! The structure and framework of “Dogs Without Tales” is a solid representation of what hardcore is all about…gripping pace, chops and cuts dominate the moment at its every twist & turn. The solo once again bleeds charisma and character through your speakers – and I’ve gotta say, the comeback after it to end the song was another extreme highlight for me. The grinding churn of the guitars gives you the most low-end & dark sound on the entire record right at the end of “Dogs Without Tales” and it works wonders. The Residuals return to full-scream & shout on this cut and it’s a welcome return – he nails the energy of this cut and the angst in the lyrics right alongside the powerful pace and pounding of the drums.
Overall…this style…again, whether you wanna call it punk, metal, grindcore…whatever category you’re comfortable with…it sure is an observational kind of music. Lyrically, you can rely on The Residuals to supply direct meanings and potent imagery…but rarely do they go beyond the surface to that next level…and I think if anything, that might be another opportunity for growth not just in the music here, but the genre as a whole. It’s cool to yell out about the things that are wrong, disgusting and broken with our people and planet…but it’s rare to get any advice on how to go about changing that other than the typical advice to wake the fuck up and open our minds. I hate to say be proactive in a genre like this whereby you’re judged HARSHLY for how close you do/don’t come to the desired sound, production and style by other bands and fans of these genres…but if you want to set yourself apart from the rest, there’s opportunity that exists there. Don’t just yell about the problems…because we’ve got plenty of politicians and pundits that are taking care of that for us daily…so someone out there start yelling solutions and I guarantee people will start really paying attention to those words. The doom & gloom we’ve heard…and there’s still undeniably a time where that fits too…just saying there’s opportunity for an evolution in this style of music that’s yet to be explored. Again, you can listen to a track like “Out Of The Bushes” and appreciate its respect and approach to the traditional sounds of the still-young genre that you can expect and how bang-on they are…or you might end up feeling like you’re still left wanting a bit more. I don’t feel like that’s the fault of the artist or band so much as I do the cliques of genres out there and the million people on the internet waiting to call you a sell-out the minute you deviate or try something new. So a track like “Lost Inside” didn’t completely work for me; I still appreciate the fact that something different was tried at that moment on the album for better or for worse…I think that freedom to experiment right to the borders of a genre without compromising your own sound & style is important, if only for personal growth and our own evolution in our music & art. A track like “Out Of The Bushes” nearly sticks a bit too closely to the script at points…once again SAVED by an absolutely extraordinary and stunning instrumental ending to the song that is as damn good as it gets.
I do like that there’s a somewhat poetic nature to the words of The Residuals, whether or not that comment would be appreciate by Joshua, I have no idea. But if you examine the words of a song like “Trapped In The Void” and how they’re written and structured more by the meter than by any attempt to hit a certain rhyme-scheme – he does the right thing by not selecting some cheesy word just to match the line before it and says what he really wants to say. I think you’ve gotta admire that. Don’t let the melodic beginning of “Trapped In The Void” fool you for even a second though – I certainly didn’t. At less than three-minutes long, it’s all but assured that this song will grip & rip quickly, and it takes no time at all for the mayhem to begin. Regardless of the poetic writing, he savagely screams out the words with the pure brutality and strength of all the rest…this guy really never lets up! It was actually the chorus of “Trapped In The Void” that caught the most of my attention…short, but extremely powerful.
On the surface…if you’re just listening to the rage and aggression in the music and style of The Residuals, it’s certainly similar and cohesive from track to track…to the point where I think most people would potentially miss the added personal tale & story that exists on the album’s final cut, “Left A Shadow.” It’s actually a seriously rough & sad song about watching a friend more or less let their life crumble right in front of Joshua’s very eyes…the pain of loss, the wonder of what could have been prevented or changed…the conflicting feelings of where responsibility for another begins and ends. Lyrically, I thought that The Residuals completely ended this album on a massive highlight here with what I’d consider to be the most soundly written song on the record, one where the words feel much more real and targeted as opposed to generic societal rage. That connection between the lyrics and its author are clearly on there…singing in that chorus needs the same tune-up that “Lost Inside” does – but again, rad idea to switch things up one final time at the end of the record to add further depths to the last moments we hear. The way that The Residuals END songs is like…fucking extraordinary damn near every time…a lot of what I heard on this record showed that the instrumentation has just as much power as the vocals, if not even more-so. Born Blind is menacingly heavy and a real achievement for just one dude to have crunched all this out and crushed it so hard…a commendable job from the music to the production that real fans of the extreme-side of music will no doubt latch right onto.
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