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An intriguing aesthetic - 80%

Noktorn, September 3rd, 2006

I often look at albums like snapshots from the lives of bands. In some ways, they appear as fragments, images of a single, living organism that flourishes or decays over time. It seems that many times you can tell what is occurring not merely musically, but personally and socially within the musical artist at hand. This split between Floridian grinders Bodies In The Gears Of The Apparatus and Quebecois deathcore artists Despised Icon almost epitomizes this concept. What you get to see here is the precise moment in time when both bands met with each other in their relative directions, like market equilibrium on an economic graph: Despised Icon climbing to the top of the pile that is the modern metal scene, and Bodies' insane plummet towards self-destruction.

The first side of the split is the swansong of Bodies In The Gears Of The Apparatus. The final moments of their debut EP 'Simian Hybrid Prototype' saw them disintegrating out of self-loathing and disappointment in society. On this disc, they're in a pretty obviously zombified state, clearly having decided that this would be their last release. It seems strange that such a band that writes music so full of passion and anger could become so robotic, but perhaps with was the logical conclusion to their saga. In the same vein as 'Simian Hybrid Prototype', one can imagine that Bodies would only find it appropriate to go out with a whimper instead of a bang. This all seems rather negative, but really not; these three small tracks are a case study of a band's death. In some ways, their material feels less like Bodies In The Gears Of The Apparatus and more like another bands attempt to replicate them. The music is at least an approximation of what came before, in its technical, always changing grindcore, but it seems genuinely dead inside.

Whereas on 'Simian Hybrid Prototype' Bodies used interpersonal conflict (with an emphasis on the 'personal'; the release is so sardonically emotional as to reflect some perversion of indie rock in its disgusted earnestness) to illustrate greater problems with society, the split takes a much more direct route towards political criticism. Here, Bodies paints a rather different picture of a world that didn't go to hell due to the pathetic apathy of its populace, but due to the concentrated effort of those in power ('Choking back on dirt in the defiant desert sun/they digest the fields of their enemies/The Politicians offer no way home/No escape). The themes are rather familiar here: Corrupt warfare, enslavement by political system, man betraying himself; corresponding to each of the three tracks, respectively. What effected such a sudden change? Who knows. Like most things that Bodies discussed, the reasons don't really matter. Either way, Bodies are dead. Long live Bodies.

And with nary a glance back at the pillar of salt that Bodies has turned into, Despised Icon takes the reigns. Coming merely three short months before the release of their second LP, the split represents a rather tertiary but still undoubtedly fascinating little detour in their style. I suppose that calling it 'experimental' or 'progressive' would be a bit of a misnomer, because this does form a logical bridge between their two LPs; the mysterious part is how they released material composed at such a precise part of that bridge. Despised Icon on this split has little to no connection to their rather breakdown-heavy form of deathcore (not to say it isn't artistic; however, I'd be lying if I didn't say that some of their material was disconcertingly easy to mosh to), nor does it really have much to do with the spinning technical frenzies of their early material. No, this is far subtler, and in a way, the darkest material they ever released. Lyrics are still focused on interpersonal relationships (of the sour variety, certainly), but in this case they offer little outright hatred. Instead, Despised Icon are biding their time for the opportunity to strike with absolute malice, reflected in how very black these songs are.

While the basic structure of Despised Icon's music is present here (dizzy, atonal, technical death/metalcore that climaxes in carefully engineered breakdowns), it seems markedly different. While the first track, 'One Last Martini (But You'll Never Notice)' is fairly close to both earlier and later material, the latter two tracks take on a quality inherent to this release alone. 'Oval Shaped Incisions' and 'Sever The Ties', despite their speed and technicality, have a dark, brooding quality to them. Flurries of drum fills erupt in the first seconds of 'Oval Shaped Incisions' before peeling into dual-harmonizing vocals juxtaposed with high chords, and while this seems all very brackish, it bridges into a bitter, rhythmic portion that seems a big step away from most music in the metal scene today. When the breakdowns start, they seem to drone more than usual, sleepier and more mysterious than they should be. This aesthetic culminates in closer 'Sever The Ties', where the last half minute just slows down into a thorazine-laced coma of squinting eyes and depression. Interesting stuff that will never again be played by Despised Icon.

This is most certainly an intriguing split, though not for the reasons it should be. Artistically, this isn't the most amazing 20 minutes of your life. But it is a rare, undiluted glance into the life of a modern death/grind musician. Pick it up, simply as the door to a very, very strange world.