Special Features: Featuring vocalist Lee Dorian (Cathedral), guitarist Tim Bagshaw (Ramesses), bassist Leo Smee (Cathedral) and drummer Alex Thomas (formerly of Bolt Thrower).
- Egyptian Tomb
- Reincarnation of Yesterday
- Cocaine Phantoms
- Watching the Ward Go By
Release Date: September 22, 2017
Label: Rise Above Records
If one thinks of the title of With the Dead‘s second LP, Love from With the Dead, in the context of early- and mid-’60s style singer-songwriter releases of collected singles put out by cynical buck-seeking record labels — something one might find at a garage sale from Patsy Cline or Nancy Sinatra — that would seem to be where the band is coming from. Trying to give that impression that the record you just bought is a personal letter to you, the listener, from whoever made it. Of course, the London-based filth doomers’ adoption of the trope is dripping with irony, and if there’s any question as to what the “love” that With the Dead are sending looks like, one needs only to examine the actual, physical decay depicted on the cover of the release, out, like their 2015 self-titled debut, via frontman Lee Dorrian‘s Rise Above Records imprint.
Between that and lines like, “To love I surrendered/Thus my heart has died” from “Isolation,” “When I kiss your lips/I’m another kiss closer to death” in second cut “Egyptian Tomb” and “Life is slow death/Long, drawn process/Leave me to live with love’s cold ghost” from the subsequent “Reincarnation of Yesterday,” etc., a vivid picture emerges of just where With the Dead are coming from, though it only makes the title doubly ironic (or does it cancel out the irony, like a double negative?) that a decent portion of the lyrics Dorrian shouts out from under the abyssal slogging progressions of guitarist Tim Bagshaw (Ramesses), bassist Leo Smee (formerly a bandmate of Dorrian‘s in Cathedral) and drummer Alex Thomas (formerly of Bolt Thrower) deal directly with love as much as with death, though opener “Isolation” would seem to be the most efficient summary included of the general point of view. With the Dead‘s love is a wretched, lost thing, and as the band’s stated intention their first time out was to be as grueling and aurally disgusting as possible, one can only call their efforts in surpassing that standard successful as these seven tracks/67 minutes play out with rigor-setting-in lumber and unrelenting bleakness.
As noted, “Isolation” sets the tone at the album’s launch, and that happens both figuratively and literally — the first thing we hear as the song begins is the dirt-crusted guitar of Bagshaw, coated in noise and soon joined by the plod of Thomas‘ drumming and the deeply weighted low end from Smee, captured in raw fashion by returning producer Jaime Gomez Arellano. At just under eight minutes, “Isolation” is by no means the longest cut on Love from With the Dead — that would be closer “CV1” at 18:03 — but it does immediately convey the challenge the band are putting forth. “Embrace the shadows of endless night” goes the first lyric, and though there’s a hint of melody in the chorus and it won’t be the last as the rest of the record unfolds, its riffs spreading outward like a plague, With the Dead sound like they mean it. They could’ve just as easily have called the album ‘Sincerely Yours’ and made their point.
Though “Egyptian Tomb,” which presumably closes out side A and “Reincarnation of Yesterday,” which starts a side B concluded by the following nine-minute “Cocaine Phantoms,” are somewhat faster, the atmospheric impression is made and maintained. With the Dead offer vicious, nodding groove and darken-the-sky doom, regardless of tempo or other factors. That cohesiveness speaks to the underlying mission of the band as founded by Bagshaw and Dorrian, and it’s worth noting that as new members, Smee and Thomas — the latter of whom replaces Bagshaw‘s former Ramesses bandmate Mark Greening — fit the lineup and the mission without question, and as much as the purpose of the album is regression of sound and spirit, With the Dead do move forward from the self-titled in these tracks, if only in their ultra-downer trajectory. Each crash of “Reincarnation of Yesterday” seems to slam itself into the ear, and with mournfully echoing strains of Bagshaw‘s guitar at its core, “Cocaine Phantoms” finishes out the first of Love from With the Dead‘s two LPs in direct answer to the churn of “Isolation,” surrounded by ghosts, caked in stench and unwilling to offer letup of any sort.
To wit, the second platter. Comprised only of three songs, it pairs the 10-minute “Watching the Ward Go By” and “Anemia” on side C with the aforementioned closer “CV1” on side D and moves even further into the depths than With the Dead have already gone. “Watching the Ward Go By” spends its first five-plus minutes in ambient minimalism, some spoken word from Dorrian complementing for a sense of incantation before an explosion of volume and shouts consumes much of the remaining bulk of the piece. That would seem to make “Anemia,” at just 6:49, something of a lifeline to the audience, but the reality is it’s anything but. Instead, it plunders forth its extremity and once more underscores the point of view from which the album emerges in the lines, “No love/No joy/No hope/No life.” I’m not sure there’s a simpler way to put it than that. Once more the tones are brutal but not without a corresponding sense of atmosphere, and as they fade out and “CV1” begins it’s clear Love from With the Dead has hit a particular moment of arrival. And so it has.
The finale uses all of its 18 minutes to mete out a final, exhaustive round of punishment, and by the time its first 60 seconds are up, it’s begun its movement toward the chaotic and abrasive noise that will comprise its ending while also providing the seeming landing point for where the spiral has been leading all along. By the time the layered vocals arrive eight minutes in, the tones surrounding are duly noxious, and “CV1” isn’t much past its halfway mark before the current of caustic feedback begins to swell to prominence. First it comes from under the central riff, then eventually it takes hold and seems to swallow the entire march still ongoing until it’s the only thing left and the album has rendered itself, finally, more or less unlistenable in its last moments. Like everything With the Dead do here, that too is on purpose and true to their overarching modus, and though it might not always seem like it, one of the most impressive aspects of Love from With the Dead is that it manages to push beyond the extremity of the group’s first outing without giving up the feeling of mastery behind its concept and execution. One should probably expect no less from players who are hardly newcomers either to each other’s work or in terms of general studio experience, but that With the Dead manage to retain their cohesion while giving an atmosphere surrounded by melting, rotting flesh only speaks to the strength in their bones. May they defile into perpetuity, “yours truly” to anyone bold enough to have them.