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The intro track of Bone Awl's 2005 demo, By Ropes Through Dirt, entitled "Arrival," lures you into a false sense of security, setting the stage for some sort of majestic, epic, perhaps symphonic musical journey. Fortunately, this is not the case at all and instead we're treated to a dose of Bone Awl's infectious mixture of black metal aggression and punk aesthetic, delivered directly to the brain.
For those unfamiliar with Bone Awl, the band consists of two members, He Who Gnashes Teeth and He Who Crushes Teeth, bashing out raw, primal punk stomps while the former vomits forth some of the most diabolical, acidic yet completely incomprehensible black metal vocals I've ever witnessed. The combination works a hell of a lot better than expected and on By Ropes Through Dirt, they live up to all expectations.
Riffs are extremely basic punk affairs. You won't find any guitar solos or complex tremolo riffs anywhere on this demo. The guitar tone is low (but not in a crushing, downtuned sort of way) so it pretty much blends together with the bass, which has that punchy tone associated with punk bass played with a pick. None of these simple chord progressions is a stinker and even songs that are essentially two chords ("Sex Within Death") are really difficult to hate because of the sheer energy coming through the speakers. Feedback abounds during the "quiet" moments between riffs or at the beginnings and endings of the songs. The drumming is mostly a rapid-fire punk delivery punctuated at times with blastbeats, although these are used more like fills than continuous drum patterns.
The vocals are simply unbelievable and sound positively inhuman. On standout track "Immoral Night" (which actually comes from a different recording session) the vocals are so distorted and intense that the signal actually clips. I don't mean in a shitty bedroom DSBM recorded on a boom box kind of way, but in a throat shredding, completely awesome kind of way. He does a fine job throughout the rest of the demo as well and by the time everything's over, all I want to do is shake his hand and hand him a cup of tea for his efforts. Anyone who can make out a single word of the lyrics (other than the obvious song title being spouted during the vocal intro to "White with Sepulchres"...that one's too easy) deserves a medal; metal vocals haven't been this incomprehensible since Lord Worm.
Something needs to be said about the production. Yes, it's lo-fi but it doesn't suffer from the trappings of a lot of other "raw" black metal recordings that have so much tape hiss and that "distant" sort of sound that it detracts from the power of the music. A cleaner production job wouldn't really suit the DIY nature of the music so I think that anyone who actually likes the music itself would agree that the production job is spot on.
Song highlights include the aforementioned "Immoral Night," the doomy "Pentagram Clitoris" and the title track, although if you like any of these songs nothing on the demo is going to disappoint you. Standing apart from the rest of the tracks (and indeed most other Bone Awl songs) is nine-minute album-closer "Conjure" which is a slower, quasi-stoner type of song that feature's the album's only use of what could be called "lead guitar" as well as what sounds like some heavily manipulated wind samples starting about halfway through the track, eventually taking over until everything devolves into noisy knob-twiddling. It's interesting and sort of entrancing at first but could have been cut down to a shorter length without much loss of content.
"By Ropes Through Dirt" is a standout release in the Bone Awl discography and a good starting point for someone looking to get into the band (much better than their only actual full-length, as that suffers from production issues).