Hailing from Norway, a country certainly better known for their black metal exports than grindcore, Brutal Blues is a collaborative grindcore act that consists of members Steinar (guitar/vocals) and Anders Hana (drums/vocals). Grindcore aficionados may recognize Steinar as the maniac who plays in the one-man space grind band Psudoku, as well as the grindcore bands Parlamentarisk Sodomi and BxSxRx. Anders Hana does double duty on guitar in the noise/rock/jazz hybrids Noxagt and Ultralyd, and has also performed with Jaga Jazzist and released albums on the venerable Utech Records with Paal Nilssen Love.
Just to be perfectly clear here, while the band’s grindcore tendencies are certainly brutal, there’s absolutely nothing overtly ‘bluesy’ going on within this fifteen-minute hyper-blast of angular and eclectic Norwegian grind. While it is true that Steinar and Hana’s musical ballistics sometimes intersect at junctures reminiscent of what some might call “jazzy” (no surprise, especially considering Hana’s history), there’s hardly anything here that one might consider to be even remotely related to a pentatonic scale or recognizable as twelve-bar blues. The duo even joke about the name on the band’s website, essentially telling you the name means nothing at all by stating: “Are you ready for 100% authentic deluxe delta blues from Mississippi? Too bad, because Brutal Blues is a grind band from Norway.”
Although it isn’t necessary to have prior knowledge of the member’s other numerous projects to derive enjoyment of Brutal Blues’ self-titled debut on the collaborative roster of Selfmadegod Records, Nerve Altar, and Drid Machine Records, I always find discovering a band’s musical lineage interesting in order to triangulate where their particular sound might originate from, where and how they currently exist on the musical spectrum, and where they might be headed in the future. If one were to use bits of Steinar’s whacked-out space grind from Psudoku as one coordinate, Hana’s spacious, experimental and jazzy influence as the second coordinate, and perhaps use Gridlink’s brave new grind as the third coordinate, you’d likely find something resembling Brutal Blues at the end. It all comes together to form a rather interesting and unique creature that exists entirely on its own.
While Steinar and Hana’s previous musical output is not at all lacking in the sort of in-your-face brutality often employed by their peers within the genre, Brutal Blues are less interested in the typical savagery displayed by bands like Insect Warfare and Wormrot, and are more interested in grindcore skin-flaying with a greater sense of adventure and experimentation. One of the major ways that Brutal Blues breaks away from the standard grindcore formation is in eschewing vocals, almost entirely. I say almost entirely because while the album is certainly not lacking in the extreme vocal department–there’s a fair amount of banshee-like wailing going on–the vocals don’t dominate or mask the music, as is often the case with other bands in the genre. Instrumentation is center-stage and moves about at an insane pace as both Steinar and Hana pepper in an unintelligible shriek here or an occasional grunt there, à la Naked City, but stop at anything resembling a constant tirade that fills up an entire song.
In addition to the seemingly random double-vocal attack, Brutal Blues has abandoned any suggestion of traditional lyrics or a particular political affiliation that might come along with the lyrics or artwork. Again, this furthers the notion that musical experimentation is paramount here and unburdened by trappings typically emblematic of the genre. With that said, political or ethical stances within grindcore or any other musical genre is fine, but it’s not the angle Brutal Blues takes, and it works better for them this way.
Musically speaking, Brutal Blues has more in common with grind bands such as the East West Blast Test project, James Plotkin’s Phantomsmasher, and the aforementioned Gridlink. The grind that Steinar and Hana churn out is more angular and jagged than chunky and low-end. Think less instant physical death via crushing tank treads and more electrifying and prolonged mental torture and you’ll be on the right track.
Steinar’s guitar lunacy tends to hang out in higher registers, engaging in an almost nonstop tremolo picking technique, or deftly downstroking a flurry of jangly power chords before stopping on a dime for a micro-second pause then diving back in for another dizzying display of progressive grinding guitar madness. The interesting guitar performance is probably what mostly brings Gridlink to mind, and while I can’t say Steinar’s guitar skills exist on the same plane as Takafumi Matsubara, they’re not too far removed from that particular mold-breaking style. While there is plenty of riff repetition going on, there’s truly a tremendous amount of riffs to be heard; in fact, the album feels like a smorgasbord of almost endless combinations of riffs.
The same goes for the drums. While obviously engaging in plenty of blast beats and patterns associated with the genre, the drums feel more deranged than some of the best grind acts out there. Hana’s powerful drumming not only keeps the guitar from whizzing completely out of control, but Steinar’s guitar also gives Hana something to hungrily latch onto, like a predatory animal might latch onto prey. Hana’s performance is like a near-constant drum fill for the entire album, instead of just some time-keeping device overshadowed by a six-string compatriot. There’s a deep intuitive sense to the drumming found within Brutal Blues’ self-titled debut even as the two burrow deeper and deeper into some of the most twisted, discordant, and experimental grind territory I’ve had the pleasure to hear.
The debut album by Brutal Blues is a quick fifteen minute and the whole thing whizzes by before you may have even had your fill. The only thing to do at that point is to press repeat and discover the entire album for another go-round. Brutal Blues is semi-instrumental and experimental grind at its inventive and playful best that will make you smile while simultaneously leaving you scratching your head in confusion.
06) Alminneleg Utsegn
Written by: Cody Drasser
Selfmadegod Records (Poland) / SMG121 / CD, Digital
Drid Machine Records (Norway) / DMR16 / 12″ LP
Nerve Altar (United States) / ALTAR08 / 12″ LP