Internationally, it’s been bands from New Zealand’s death and black metal underground that have drawn the most attention in recent times. That’s fair enough, I guess. Groups like Ulcerate, Vassafor, Witchrist, Diocletian, Prisoner of War, Veneficium, and Heresiarch have certainly underscored that NZ metal does brutality and belligerence extremely well. However, NZ metal obviously isn’t just bands dealing in breakneck pummelling.
Groups like Meth Drinker and Open Tomb have shown that there are virulent strains of slower, sludgier, and uglier NZ metal that are also appreciated at home and abroad. Wellington’s misery merchants Ritual Abuse dwell in that realm of ultra-negative, misanthropic doom, and like the works of Meth Drinker and Open Tomb, Ritual Abuse’s White Smoke Ritual demo is made up of wretched music that amplifies its grimmest and grimiest attributes.
White Smoke Ritual features a single 20-minute (eponymous) track which sees Ritual Abuse dragging throat-slit howls and strung-out doom through sewage-filled trenches of sludge. Icier tremolo riffs and jagged spikes of distortion and feedback cut through the low-end murk as well. And if you’ve ever wallowed in the superbly desolate and droning doom of Salem, Oregon band Hell –– or enjoyed the soul-crushing odes of bands like Electric Wizard, Cough, Fister or Primitive Man –– then *White Smoke Ritual *will likely hit the bleak spot for you too.
Ritual Abuse’s demo is an unquestionably grotesque and heavyweight hit of doom, and given my predilection for overindulgent verbosity I could expand on White Smoke Ritual a lot further still. But I’m not going to do that. Because, to be honest, that feels unwarranted.
Some music just isn’t made for pernickety appraisal; it’s made to be experienced. I mean, Ritual Abuse certainly didn’t record White Smoke Ritual in the vain hope that some grey-bearded halfwit like me would then pick it all apart. Ritual Abuse’s first demo is an instinctive punch in the gut. It’s the kind of nihilistic nastiness you need to feel rather than scrutinise.
What I will say, is that White Smoke Ritual is a standout demo that certainly ramps up my anticipation for Ritual Abuse’s next release. (And it’s no surprise to see White Smoke Ritual was recorded at Wellington’s Scumbag College studios, like so many other first-rate demos, EPs and albums.) Make sure to check Ritual Abuse out forthwith, and keep a close eye on the band in the future.
As I said above, writing about music that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated sometimes feels like you’re doing that music a disservice. Obviously, a million music journalists would entirely disagree with that statement, and sure, my raison d’être is to tell you about music I think you should hear. But I’m also keenly aware that there’s always a risk of dryly dissecting otherwise fierce music, and inadvertently over-analysing it and draining all its vital blood and bile in the process.
So how do you write about a band that specialises in mayhem and hope to capture a sliver of their ability to wreak sonic and emotional carnage? That’s definitely the question at the top of my mind when writing about Trepanation. The Auckland, New Zealand trio’s releases are, very much, visceral encounters. And the band’s sound and vision has to be experienced –– preferably at overwhelming volume –– to be understood and appreciated.
Trepanation’s music features a punk rock snarl buried in a grinding whirlwind of black and death metal. As you’d expect, there’s nothing passive or easily accessible about the band. And Trepanation’s recent Grand Maw cassette holds true to that aesthetic as well. The tape features two tracks, “Grand Maw” and “The Tentacled Eye & Hail Sunyata”, and both songs are gnarled and cryptic and conjure unnerving scenes. That’s not unusual for Trepanation –– the band’s expert at getting under your skin –– but “The Tentacled Eye & Hail Sunyata” crawls through far doomier passages while clanging and crashing like an über-sinister Einstürzende Neubauten, resulting in some of Trepanation’s most unsettling work yet.
There’s no question that Trepanation are one of NZ’s most underrated metal bands. Although, I seriously doubt that the band would care about upping their profile or a pile of press clippings. What Trepanation clearly focus on is forgoing the illusions and fripperies of metal and simply crafting intense, nerve-shredding tracks.
All of Trepanation’s previous releases have exhibited just that: see their eviscerating debut, Hideous Black Abyss, or their 2015 split with NZ’s surliest punks, Spiteful Urinator. Grand Maw is another perfectly hideous idol to add to the black, death and grindcore shrine. But it’s also great to hear Trepanation twisting their sound further, and trying out new ideas. Remember, like Ritual Abuse, Trepanation need to be experienced, not analysed –– so get to it.
Trepanation, Ritual Abuse and Desolation Horns all feature on the bill at Heresiarch’s headlining show at Wellington’s Valhalla bar on 26 November.