Before I get into deciphering the unique duo of Mike IX and Ryan McKern on their latest full-length offering as The Guilt øf…, Isolation Room, it seems appropriate to give credit to their fellow Big Easy residents in Last Hurrah Records for their considerable and consistent dedication to making the vinyl experience as memorable as possible through their attention to the visual quality of every release that they touch. Isolation Room is just another impressive optical offering in a short lineage of releases that includes the memorable “Pool of Blood” (half translucent red, half clear) effect on Star & Dagger‘s In my Blood EP, as well as the all-around brilliant “Midnight Sky” appearance of -(16)-‘s Lost Tracts of Time. Don’t get me wrong, it is absolutely “all about the music” here, but every release that you’ll grab from Last Hurrah is, in itself, an outstanding visual work of art. Isolation Room has been released as a translucent green 12″ LP that is splattered with “doublemint” and black in a full-color embossed sleeve as designed by Lindsey Kuhn.
The Guilt øf… is not a new undertaking; in fact, Chrome Peeler Records had the pleasure of debuting this new project from Eyehategod‘s Mike IX and Ryan McKern (previously of Profound Lore‘s Wolvhammer) back in 2010 through a split with the infamous Japanoise artist Merzbow. Despite the notoriety of the individual artists at work here, you can’t be blamed for not having heard of it until now. With Mike IX’s attention now squarely divided between Eyehategod and the increasingly well-known experimental doom super-group Corrections House, The Guilt øf… doesn’t appear to have gathered the interest that it has perhaps deserved, to the point that Isolation Room appears to be the duo’s collective death rattle, with the final hint of life in their eyes disappearing through a forthcoming 7″ split from Baltimore’s A389 Recordings with Mighty Sphincter.
The sound of the project is deceptive from the opening moments on “Social Recall Rewind”, which, through its heavy industrial bass hits and dark, semi-glitchy background ambience might give listeners the impression of hardcore techno or gabber not unlike that of Lenny Dee‘s “Fuckin Hostile”. The door on that impression is quickly kicked in with one emphatic, excruciatingly raw scream, however, as it pairs with a simplistic martial guitar riff to create a noisy soundtrack which is as vehement in tone as any of the most forceful power electronics acts. The title track only continues this death march with the mantra “Isolation Room!” as the band takes their sound towards an even more militant yet minimal level, where much of Mike IX’s old-school industrial influences can be heard in full exposure. While, admittedly, the lyrical approach from the project can come off as irritating in their less-harsh moments because of their utilization of repetition, they seem all too aware, if not proud of it by repeating those same patterns several times over within the inner sleeve artwork. The Guilt øf… is intent on making a point, even if it means bludgeoning it into the mind of the listener.
The idea of a militaristic sound has already surfaced several times in this review, and it seems defining for The Guilt øf…, at least on Isolation Room, but not at all in the way as typically seen throughout the martial industrial genre. Instead, this sound is much more punk-influenced, in a way mocking the idea of a police state, and with their dedications to the victims of hurricane Katrina as well as the all-too-obvious intentions of the cover artwork, The Guilt øf… seem to be pointing their fingers directly at the way that the aftermath of Katrina was handled both on a local level and by FEMA in the absolute clusterfuck that they created. Combine this personal disgust with the solitary, non-personal vision of an isolation room and how it applies to how the city was cut off from the rest of the country during and after the hurricane, and the emotional thematics for the release become clear.
The highlights of the album are strange in that they exist outside of the artist’s primary sound. The entire B-side is strong, but in particular, the nearly danceable rhythm of “The Ides Ballot” creates a unique flavor that isn’t too far off from how I felt in regards to a Cold Cave reference towards Trepaneringsritualen‘s “Judas Goat”. It’s definitely awkwardly out-of-place, but it will work for most listeners. The instrumental and ethereal nature of “Probation Addiction” on the A-side was also a welcome change of pace that finds its polar, discordant opposite when the album comes full-circle with “Shriek of the Arabic Poems” — an oddly psychedelic track that utilizes the death industrial approach to the dark ambient genre in order to create an atmosphere that is as distraught and strung-out as it is menacing.
Isolation Room is one of those rare releases in which, even through its absurdly minimal approach at times, remains meaningful and has a purpose. There are some questionable hangups in terms of musicianship that hold the release back from that “hidden gem” category, but through sheer emotive depth, genre variance, and visual artistry, The Guilt øf… still seem to have achieved something modestly special. It wasn’t until I began to deconstruct this release that it occurred to me how little Mike IX actually talks about his opinions on and experiences with the Katrina disaster in interviews, which is unfortunate because he, as well as McKern, clearly has a lot to say about the issue.
A1) Social Recall Rewind
A2) Isolation Room
A3) Probation Addictions
A4) Force Fed Militant
B1) The Ides Ballot
B2) Lie Detector
B3) Shriek of the Arabic Poems