A Place To Bury Strangers guitarist, vocalist, effects engineer and mastermind Oliver Ackermann said that the band’s preliminary idea for sophomore album Exploding Head was “to create the craziest, most fucked up recording ever.” That’s an ambitious goal, particularly following the group’s self-titled debut, which was as loud, paranoid, intense and brutal as a rock album could possibly get. In fact, taking that even further seems difficult, for sure, and most likely quite dangerous. I wouldn’t advise anyone try it without earplugs, goggles and flame-retardant coveralls. Of course, A Place To Bury Strangers are experts, and far be it from me to tell them not to push their vicious industrial-gaze sound to its most merciless limits. As to whether or not they succeeded in doing so, here’s a hint: the title of the album is Exploding Head.
Building upon the reverb-heavy sonic destruction of their first album, A Place To Bury Strangers haven’t softened their jagged riffs or jackhammer basslines in the slightest. Yet, due to greater production clarity and a willingness to reduce their overall fuzz output, the New York trio has made an even more accessible album this time around. Their hooks have gotten sharper and their melodies more refined, but the flipside of this new adherence to clarity and the slightest of sheen is that when Ackermann does unleash his electrifying barbs of feedback, it cuts deeper and less forgivingly; an ear-bleeding delight for sure.
Further exploring the path set forth on songs like 2007’s “To Fix The Gash In Your Head” and “I Know I’ll See You,” A Place To Bury Strangers pack a hefty quiver of radio-friendly rockers on Exploding Head. And within these half-dozen hookfests are numerous stylistic surprises. First single “In Your Heart” is truly magnificent, as Ackermann jabs out a series of harmonics that crash heavier and more metallic than riffs ever could, while rhythmic team Jay Space and Jono MOFO provide the high speed industrial-punk backing to propel the song toward a decidedly masochistic dancefloor. Leadoff track “It Is Nothing” is an even more furious detonation device for the senses, with riffs escalating toward oblivion and electronic effects sparking wildly. Cramps-style rockabilly licks open “Deadbeat,” a surf anthem from hell that finds Ackermann sounding his most jaded as he moans, “what the fuck?/ don’t play with my heart.” “Keep Slipping Away” is a bit cleaner and more straightforward, recalling the danceable goth-rock of The Cure’s “The Baby Screams,” while the title track is a bit closer to “Primary.”
The handful of tracks on which A Place To Bury Strangers explore their more antisocial, noise-drenched tendencies prove to be just as satisfying, if a bit more terrifying. “Lost Feeling” isn’t so much a frontal assault as a slow and calculated lashing, as Ackermann’s guitars drip and snap with rhythmic precision, slowly growing in intensity. “Ego Death,” meanwhile, finds the band at their most cavernous and colossal, blowing out their own amplification with more distortion than recommended for personal consumption. Buried beneath the horrific shrieks and police siren riffs of “Everything Always Goes Wrong” are some monster hooks, making it a perfect pairing of the band’s most brutal and most inviting aspects, reaching a badass climax during its hard rocking chorus. Yet the album’s denouement, “I Lived My Life To Stand In the Shadow of Your Heart,” is an epic punk rocker that rides caffeine-fueled beats and power chords toward oblivion.
That A Place To Bury Strangers would allow their sound to evolve in a more accessible direction isn’t particularly surprising. But the fact that they also took the noisiest, most gut-wrenching aspects of their music and cranked them even higher makes this evolution even more compelling. Exploding Head is thusly titled for a reason. Good luck.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.