The Body took on a fairly strange project in 2016 with No One Deserves Happiness, their own attempt at making pop music as filtered through their layers of noise and agony. And by the standards of extreme metal, at least, it did resemble pop music to some degree—electronic beats, more clearly pronounced hooks, the general sense that it wasn’t totally dancefloor anathema. Yet for The Body, it represented merely one point on a spectrum, one step on an evolution that’s taken them from choral-backed sludge metal to a more electronics-heavy style of industrial metal to that, their gloriously gross take on pop music, or at least pop music as they conceive of it. With I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, the Portland duo puts aside their investment in pop music only slightly, pushing beyond that point in their consistently fascinating creative evolution to deliver their most elegant, ethereal album to date.
“The Last Form of Loving,” the album’s opening track, only bears a passing resemblance to anything the band’s done in the past. And curiously, the one thing that ties it to previous records is the presence of Chrissy Wolpert of Assembly of Light Choir, whose gorgeous and ghostly singing has been a presence on many of the band’s past albums. It’s a beautifully eerie beginning for a strange musical experience yet to unfold, less an omen than a moment of reflection before the intensity escalates. But that escalation happens slowly and gradually. “Can Carry No Weight” feels almost like an extension of that spacious and graceful opener, albeit with two major differences: an undercurrent of distortion running through the track as a textural layer, and the distant screech of The Body’s Chip King, whose piercing vocals are an uncomfortable instrumental element all their own. It’s not really until the fourth track, “The West Has Failed,” that I Have Fought Against It even indulges in the kind of explosion of noise and low-end that the band is known for, and even then it’s cloaked in the echoing aesthetics of dub.
While The Body’s a heavy band—one of the heaviest, in fact—they’ve never felt that they were part of a larger metal community, or for that matter, pop or anything else. Most accurately, I Have Fought Against It can best be described as a kind of modern interpretation of industrial music, one that balances beauty with agony on a similar level to that of an artist like Pharmakon. On “Nothing Stirs,” the group gives the microphone over to Lingua Ignota’s Kristin Hayter, and the resulting sound is utterly transcendent. It’s easily among the prettiest and most majestic tracks the band have ever recorded, but the intense performance from Hayter, alternately breathtaking and brutal, gives it an even greater emotional weight. By contrast, “Partly Alive” features the aggressive bark of Uniform vocalist Michael Berdan in a more urgent and thumping EBM industrial pulse. It’s still a shrieking beast of a song, but it’s strangely fun in its own twisted way, not the sort of thing that can be said often about a song by The Body, but an interesting surprise all the same.
The one characteristic that carries through on this album from past installments in The Body’s catalog is a darkness that borders on the bleak. The title I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer is a line taken from Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, and that in itself seems fairly in character from a band whose music often drips with cynicism and despair. But they’ve never before issued anything quite as harrowing, even in its hushed tones, as final track “Ten Times A Day, Every Day, A Stranger,” which juxtaposes stark piano against a passage from Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude, detailing an emptiness that’s almost too much to bear. It’s a good thing that the album offers a song like “An Urn” for balance, which simply layers on as much muck and noise on top of the album’s most straightforward dance beats. In the world of The Body, the most twisted sounds are often the most fun, and the quietest are at times the most intense. The Body maybe aren’t a metal band at all on I Have Fought Against It, but they’ve arguably never released anything quite so heavy.