“This album marks the death of the band.”
These are words announced by Joachim Nordwall, founder and leader of The Skull Defekts, in advance of this self-titled release. For a decade they have been blazing a destructive path through the experimental outer reaches of industrial music, a form of music that is, perhaps deceptively, defined by discipline and restraint. But that is nothing compared to the self-control required to voluntarily call an end to the project that has been your life’s work for such an extended period of time. This is not a split following on from artistic differences or solo ambitions, but a co-ordinated, carefully orchestrated finish. They know very well the unique emotional hammer blow that such a farewell can wield when done properly, and consequently they pull no punches in its execution.
Make no mistake though, Skull Defekts haven’t gone soft on us. Opener “A Brief History of Rhythm, Dub, Life and Death,” while on topic, is still driven by a chopper-blade subwoofer growl (presumably representing the dub) and ritualistic drum patterns (the rhythm). Buzzsaw sparks of squalling guitar and found percussive clatters fill out the mix as the track builds: it is chaotic in some sense, but when the sonic palette is expanded this far, it is easier to recognize the benefits of restraint, and this is a band that spent their ten years mastering that particular art.
Compared with their three previous albums, this final act is a cohesive, co-ordinated attack. The tracks, though distinct, work in the same direction. There are no jarring right turns, instead a gradual amalgamation of anger, discomfort and resentment at the recent turn of world events. On paper that may seem austere, but in practice it allows for a concerted release of energy, a welcome catharsis as we all struggle through these times together.
There are a few moments of humbler, simpler joy here too. “Clean Mind,” in Skull Defekts terms, is a ditty, with its recognizable and reoccurring guitar riff and reasonably straightforward vocals. Forget that it is still eardrum-strippingly aggressive, just as the following track “The Dance” is: both are sub-four minutes and in a slightly madder and more perfect world they could even have been radio staples. At that rate, one more Skull Defekts release and we might have had a chart topper.
For a final record, it may seem odd to find a new member in the band, but indeed Mariam Wallentin is in, lending vocals to “Slow Storm’ that in essence consist of a string of existential buzzwords (“sadness…pain…ignorance…rain”), gesturing at the building blocks of the world but offering little by way of hope for their resolution. There is an open-tuned large canvass grandeur to this album, yet somehow it is still hamstrung by crippling claustrophobia.
The record finishes with “A Message from The Skull Defekts,” a parting message of chaos and disorder, a reminder of the power of non-compliance, followed by “The Beauty of Creation and Destruction,” full of lines such as, “Years of building and creating/Then this.” As David Bowie understood with Blackstar, a carefully planned exit can be a poignant, marvelous thing. The Skull Defekts have certainly managed that.