Some records and bands get themselves by on songs, discrete melodies and melodic concepts, the formalism of the pop tune or etude or the like. That’s perfectly well and good; we here enjoy more than our fair share of song-driven works and artists. But there is always a kind of ineffable magic to artists who indulge in something closer to sonic worlds, creating tapestries and maps and sculptures out of sound rather than typical songforms. There is back matter to this new Anatomy of Habit record about a newer lineup, this being the second record of the new configuration, but those elements seem largely to be a matter of the creative end, the process the band needed to pass through to get back to productivity. Their penchant for expansive sonic worldmaking, the same type of vast and swarming prog as groups like Magma, Univers Zero and maudlin of the Well, is maintained as sure here as ever in their discography.
Their approach to prog is a curious one to people who may see the word and naively think of pure Moog-driven tributes to groups like Yes or Genesis. The palette they draw from is equally as post-psychedelic, but the psychedelic-as-in-psychosis genres they pull from align more with post-punk, industrial and doom metal than pop. The penchant for jazz and classical approaches to those sonic palettes remains, explaining the tendency toward colossal track lengths; but, just like any great player of jazz-inflected or orchestral-inflected music, the sensitivities of the group are honed to moment-to-moment exercises, such that it feels less like one interminable 20-minute piece of music and more like 20 exhilarating moments of continuous razor sharp improvisation. Lyrics and vocal lines rumble out as organically as organ and percussion batter the ear, matching the almost purely instinctive playing that groups like Yes or King Crimson mustered at their most powerful.
The record storms and broods, leering apocalyptically through the speakers, leeching like a miasma of black choking smog. It’s the same intense, suffocating feeling one gets from Godflesh at their peak, the way sound transcends itself into a pure sensorial experience. The grim intonation of the title of the record hovers like a ghost over all three of these tracks, that bellow of “black openings,” like staring into a pit, a grave, the mouth of death. That sentiment is the linking element between these three tracks, creating a sense that these pieces are something closer to movements of a greater single musical idea rather than wholly disparate pieces, another point of separation from the typical approach of song-driven work.
There is a massive sense of respect on this record for the listener, marrying epic song lengths to an utterly digestible 40-minute runtime, a keen ear keeping the moment-to-moment action riveting and the overall listen a rewarding experience like finishing a short, harrowing novel in one sitting. The sensation is closer to golden-era Godspeed You! Black Emperor records than latter-day Swans, that same marriage of chamber music aesthetics and post-prog gargantuanism and macroscale composition as their predecessors in Univers Zero and the like. Another point of comparison would be Tool, albeit an alternate world where they allow themselves to be fully subsumed into the kinds of apocalypsis and soundscape-driven textural work they are often credited with but only rarely actually pursue.
As for appraisal, the band has the uncanny knack of producing records that are of more or less equal value, of which this is no exception. Despite this superb consistency, the group has never seemed to break through, always being trapped in the if-you-know-you-know category that limited similarly genius groups like Cardiacs or the various groups of Mike Vennart for years. This is the kind of music that, as it plays, the walls melt away, the sense of headphones or speakers gradually dissolves, and I feel fully transported into a new world, one that superimposes itself in palimpsest over the real, replacing it utterly. This is a magical thing, the exact sensation you are told to stop expecting as you get older, as the volume of art you’ve consumed hits such a frightening crescendo that any hope of capturing that youthful realm of pure imagination and potentiality should be discarded. Anatomy of Habit continue their decade-long streak of exhilarating experimental and progressive hybrid of rock, metal, punk, prog, jazz and chamber music on Black Openings. Let’s hope this is the one to finally blow the doors off the joint.
Langdon Hickman is listening to progressive rock and death metal. He currently resides in Virginia with his partner and their two pets.