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I can't make the review title the ANGERY emoji :( - 55%

MutantClannfear, April 2nd, 2017
Written based on this version: 2010, Cassette, Klaxon Records

For me, Bone Awl is quite hard to separate from the impact they had upon the black metal scene. They played a major role in taking the Ildjarn-branded stomping punk approach to black metal and carrying it into the 21st century after the original Norwegian project packed up its bags. They sprouted up not in Norway but in NorCal, bringing definition and unity to a somewhat directionless BM presence on the West Coast. Their sense of aesthetics, informed by lo-fi punk and noise, also left its mark; I feel that Bone Awl in particular helped play a large role in making it okay to write BM songs not about Satanism, paganism, folklore or other topics explicitly promoted by the first and second waves in Scandinavia. Many bands which were certainly influenced by them are among my favorites: CW Productions outfits, Black Beasts, Slave House… They've certainly left their mark. And yet, I can't quite get as much out of them as I want to. This little instrumental tape, hardly even a blip in their massive discography, is about as close as they come for me.

If you're not familiar with Bone Awl, it's not exactly music with a lot of potential for analysis. Musically, at least, they're dumb as bricks. Snarling down-strummed chords slam into each other, usually at a consistent and workmanlike pace, while the drums just clunk on top with a militant, lobotomized devotion to keeping rhythm and not much else. (The lyrics are usually great, but that's irrelevant here, this being an instrumental release.) Most Bone Awl material seems to, without fail, have production that renders the potential strength of their compositions all for naught and makes them actually rather quite limp and ineffective; it seems like the guitars are either nearly acoustic or they're diluted in harsh but thin and uninteresting feedback. Hell, even the songs previewed here were originally released on a split with harsh noise act The Rita, in which context they were interspersed in The Rita's harsh noise wall nearly beyond recognition. It seems like four years later they realized that this was probably the closest they had ever come to fulfilling their purpose as a band, and re-released the tracks without giving any noise artists the opportunity to take a dump all over them first.

It turns out that what was nestled beneath is actually pretty decent! The guitar tone on Sunless Xyggos is thick and the drums are bassy, raucous and unhinged, so we, the listeners, can finally hear how Bone Awl music must sound inside the minds of the creators. Admittedly, I still don't think it's perfect. This release throws out its best idea first with "I Feel Tension", a song that lives up to its name with two nearly-identical but equally-good bouncy riffs. This same song appeared on All Has Red and was basically unremarkable because of the flaccid production, so I'm happy it was given new life here. The other four songs don't give me the same self-aware, "I know this riff is dope" vibe, though to their credit they are legitimately nasty and angry. "Black Beasts", while inferior to the band whose name it inspired, is probably my favorite of these, if only because its singular riff sounds like it took more than 10 seconds to write (let's say 13, I'm feeling pretty generous). The songs seem to subtly decrease in quality as the tape progresses, with the final song being twice as long as all the others at half the tempo. Its single riff is actually kind of annoying, and by the end of the tape you're left with a somewhat bitter taste in your mouth.

Concretely speaking, what would improve this? Well, vocals, for one. All these songs even had lyrics in the liner notes of the split with The Rita, so all they would have had to do was transfer the vocal tracks over to the standalone instrumentals! Also, having more than seven riffs would have helped… Anything to give this more substance, really. I understand that raw blackened punk isn't a genre that you compose in Guitar Pro so you can map all of the tempo changes and make sure every voice moves in harmony with one another, but the simpler and fewer your ideas are, the better they have to be. "I Feel Tension" makes the cut here, but no other song really does. Also, I feel like the success of other bands that play music this dumb is the use of faster tempos. When Black Beasts pull out a blast beat, you get ready to throw the fuck down. It's madness. With the tempo here stuck at a grumpy stomp, it doesn't do much besides yell "I'M ANGRY I'M ANGRY I'M ANGRY". Yes, Bone Awl, we know.

At 12 minutes in length, this tape isn't tedious, but I don't feel like it does what it sets out to do consistently and effectively enough for me to consciously listen to it. There are bands that came after Bone Awl that do the same thing but several orders of magnitude better. As it stands, unless they come back from the dead with that new full-length I've heard whispers of, and unless that full-length kicks ass, I imagine Raspberry Bulbs will remain the current kings of black/punk while Bone Awl end up in art museums so people can admire their aesthetics without having to listen to their mostly lackluster music.

sums up why this band is lame - 0%

skoggangr, April 29th, 2010

Bone Awl play a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. On the basis of this description, I expected them to be my new favorite band. Over the last year and a half I have listened to a number of their eps and demos. I tried very hard to like them, and for a long time said that I liked them, but recently realized that I never actually played their albums, and asked myself why.

Their newest release, the demo "Sunless Xyggos," distills their minimal style down to the most minimal minimum. As usual, there are a maximum of two riffs per song, and the "middle" riff, which works something like a mosh breakdown or a chorus, is usually a kind of variation on the first riff. What they have stripped away is the vocals...I may have heard a faint distorted yowl or two in the background, but there is pretty much no screaming going on here. In a sound that is purely drumbeat, riff, and vocals, this seems like it's a pretty serious reduction.

In this reduction, we are getting the core of the Bone Awl style. The band is supposed to be driven by the power of pure repetitive riffage, surging over an unrelenting rhythmic assault. The guitar/bass and drums are supposed to speak for themselves. The problem is that they don't. For the amount of racket these guys are making, the music is pretty limp. The instruments don't usually work together to create a sense of onrushing motion, which is crucial to this kind of stuff. The riffs are not very fun or interesting to listen to. For the most part, the chords don't push and pull at each other, and the lack of any rhythmic variation whatsoever becomes a real problem at the plodding midtempo these guys always use (except in the one obligatory really slow godawfully boring song they stick at the end of each album).

The lackluster riffage might not be such a huge problem if we were given more than just a riff or two, sitting on top of a beat that does little more than keep time and give direction. The obsession with minimalism prevents this, so that the music undermines itself. If you're going to write a song dominated by one riff, it better be a fucking monster, and it's best if it engages with and plays off of other elements in the song. The Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog," Metallica's "Am I Evil" (yeah I know it's a Diamond Head cover), and Discharge's "The Blood Runs Red" are all great examples of this.

"Sunless Xyggos," by giving us the purest realization of the Bone Awl concept, reveals what was going on all along. It is simply the most fully realized aesthetic statement in a discography that is nothing but a series of aesthetic statements. In other words, Bone Awl aren't really anything aside from their hypothetically cool sound. The songs are just collections of sonic elements, selected because they are cool. The construction of their songs, and the musical work these songs accomplish, is incidental to their primary goal, which is simply to be a raw, noisy, hyper-minimalist hybrid of black metal and hardcore punk. This is nothing but style.

slightly adapted from a post at: