Once upon a time, not so long ago, blackened punk duo Tuscoma were a trio called Hollywoodfun Downstairs. Under that name, the Wellington, New Zealand-based band released a few records and embarked on lengthy self-booked/self-funded tours around NZ, Europe and the UK. It's worth pointing out, here at the start, that’s a notable feat. Especially considering how many other independent homegrown bands are apparently exhausted after a two-date ‘NZ tour’.
Hollywoodfun Downstairs’ relentless touring was first fuelled by the strong DIY ethics of guitarist and frontman Kurt Williams, and the level of commitment that Williams and his Tuscoma bandmate, drummer Joe Wright, have shown to their music is equally impressive. Case in point: Hollywoodfun Downstairs’ last European tour.
Back in 2017, Hollywoodfun Downstairs released a hyper-speed noise punk album entitled Tetris, which attracted great reviews and a lot of European interest. However, on the eve of the band jetting off to Europe, to capitalise on all that attention, Hollywoodfun Downstairs’ bassist exited the band.
What would have easily crippled another band didn’t stop Williams or Wright from getting on that plane to Europe. They undertook a massive European tour as an untested duo, and that decision proved pivotal.
Playing as a two-piece brought a whole new dynamic to Hollywoodfun Downstairs, and Williams and Wright decided to explore those creative possibilities under their new band name, Tuscoma. That name change reflects a new focus and a renewed sense of energy, and that’s made manifest on Tuscoma’s debut, Arkhitecturenominus. The ambitiously entitled Arkhitecturenominus is darker and more abrasive than anything Hollywoodfun Downstairs released. Although, Tuscoma’s debut does share some similarities with Hollywoodfun Downstairs’ final album.
Like Tetris, Arkhitecturenominus is a brain-twisting release exhibiting a pronounced shift in attitude and aesthetics, and an amplification of harshness and heaviness. Arkhitecturenominus sees a more challenging and confrontational band emerge, with Tuscoma slathering noise punk with a layer of tar, and adding freezing squalls of blast-beaten black metal into the mix.
In one sense, that means mayhem reigns on Arkhitecturenominus, but Tuscoma haven't discarded all of Hollywoodfun Downstairs’ melodic tendencies.
Rip-roaring tracks like “Aerial Views Over Barcelona” and “Crooked Frames” feature some of the fiercest and most in-your-face music that Williams and Wright have ever produced. (And there’s no mistaking the presence of visceral black metal throughout Arkhitecturenominus.) However, there are still audible hooks buried in the depths of otherwise storming songs like “Groma” and the album's title track.
That said, Arkhitecturenominus is a punishing release. The album’s brutal tone captures Tuscoma's live intensity, and Wright’s drumming under the Tuscoma banner is more high-powered and destructive (see his full-throttle percussion on “Laser Eyes”). Williams invites distortion and dissonance to corrupt his guitar work and his vocals as well, and that annihilates an ear-splitting track like “Post-Reflective, Mind Games”. Sound good? Well, fair warning. If you’re going to have any issue with Arkhitecturenominus, it’ll likely be the album's relentless attack that'll irk you. Tuscoma pulverize everything in their path –– pounding note after note into oblivion. It'd be understandable if you found their crushing modus operandi too unvarying or even wearying. Unrelenting noisescapes aren’t for everyone.
You could also make the point that cross-pollinating harsh strains of indie rock, punk and metal is de rigueur these days. But I don’t think Tuscoma are latching onto any trends. Clearly, musical and cultural influences from Europe have helped to reshape Tuscoma’s sound. Many NZ bands operate within a safe paradigm of what works at home, but Tuscoma show a healthy degree of experimentalism on genre-fucking songs like “828 to the Burj”, and a lot of Arkhitecturenominus feels alien to NZ’s shores in creative terms.
When Tuscoma's cacophonies reach their crescendos, my favourite musical mantra – noise not music – enters the frame. A deafening track like “A Place in the World” spits its venom and claws at you as it melts down into a boiling mass of noise. Throughout Arkhitecturenominus, Wright and Williams ruthlessly mutilate their songs, and let's not forget the raucous and guttural vocals, which hammer the inhospitality home.
Williams and Wright had to overcome significant challenges and take creative risks in order to become Tuscoma. However, those experiences have clearly enlivened the two musicians. Whatever alchemy is at work here has seen a trio become a duo with an even stronger sound. Tuscoma make a phenomenal amount of enthralling noise, all of which oozes palpable ferocity.
Arkhitecturenominus is a stubbornly defiant album, overflowing with intensity, and chaos isn’t just embraced on Tuscoma’s debut – it’s actively encouraged to fuck things up. Arkhitecturenominus smashes boundaries, and minds. All hail the ecstasy of true creative freedom.