A sugar-glazed monstrosity
Did you ever get sick on Halloween? Finally bursting after shoveling candy into your mouth faster than your tiny stomach could hold, despite the constant warnings of adults who knew better. Skittles and chocolate making an unceremonious front-end exit, hours of “work” ruined. Worst of all is the taste. As a child, there’s nothing better than the sweet taste of candy, and to have it mutilated by bitter bile seems a cruel joke to a tiny mind. Animated Violence Mild is all vomited skittles. A stomach convulsion that is sickly sweet but deeply off, it leaves an impression, it’s unforgettable and it’s completely unnatural.
This music is violence. It’s a gory death at the hands of a wood chipper, mangled flesh sprayed onto an apple orchard to fertilize trees that go on to produce even sweeter fruit. One struggles to picture the empty husk that must have remained of Benjamin John Power once he made the final edits on the record. But it is here nonetheless; caked in brain matter, threatening to bust open your skull at any turn. The panic is intoxicating. It is bloodlust of the highest order. To listen to Animated Violence Mild is to fear oneself because your capacity for violence outshines even this record.
Now, this album is more than just sugar glazed brutality and emotion. It’s still a piece of music at its core, and each decision is consciously crafted and surgically effective. The intro, being only 36 seconds long, serves largely as a primer for the manic energy of the record. It consists almost entirely of a discussion where one person is recounting their experience at a strange experimental show, casually throwing out lines like, “Takes off blazer, puts on blazer again, looks up and is like, “I’m gonna kill myself!”” Of course, it isn’t long before the show itself comes to you; the synths rise, increasing far past an acceptable volume, and launch immediately into “Death Drop.” Now, to describe any of the music that Blanck Mass has ever made as “normal” would be a blatant lie, but even among his little shop of horrors “Death Drop” stands out. Ferocity drips from the teeth of this track; it’s driving and forceful in a way that metal albums think they are. There are so many unexpected turns this song takes, from the screaming about one-quarter of the way in, to the bright almost poppy breakdown at the four-minute mark. Power has taken everything from his musical past and condensed it into one blistering track; whether it be metal, noise, post-rock, or techno it’s all here and it’s all perfect. The lead single, “House vs. House” is one of the more approachable tracks. Often choosing to keep reserved, its rare moments of intensity come from an unrelenting brightness. Even still, some of the voice samples carry an unsettling and unnatural effect to them as you can never quite place what is being said. “Hush Money” kicks off with the tortured robot sounds you’d expect to find on an Amnesia Scanner before breaking into an energetic sound that exists somewhere between techno, footwork and an indie piano ballad.
Blanck Mass has never been easy to classify; at least in past efforts, the metal influence was strong enough that it could be cited as a key component. But this record is beyond genre and makes its living on the knife’s edge of emotion. “Love is a Parasite” again turns up the aggression, but unlike the intense World Eater reminiscent “Death Drop,” it conveys its unsettling thesis in other ways. Presented as a cycle of abuse, the track constantly reaches out to pull your hair, then whispers sweet words once you’ve turned around in shock. The back center portion of the track is one of the most soaring, beautiful compositions that Blanck Mass has ever churned out, and that it exists in tandem with such brutality is far from a mistake. “Creature/West Fuqua” is a glittering intermission, full of twinkling strings and soft choral synths that briefly distract from the madness to come. “No Dice,” one of the record’s lead singles, is also the most traditional of all its offerings. It has an almost danceable quality to it and is not entirely unlike “Prince’s Prize” off of Fuck Buttons’ 2013 record Slow Focus. If you were to go and show this song to the average person they may find it a little strange, but in all likelihood, it isn’t going to redefine someone’s perception of music. However, it serves as a powerful realignment in tone before the album hits its final track. At the album’s close, we receive “Wings of Hate” a song that absolutely makes good on the promise of its title. Easily the most Slow Focus-esque release since the 2013 record; this track turns spaceward with strange blippy notes and a fluttering synth all undercut by powerful clapping drums and a persistent bass hum. The full circle of menace that runs through this record culminates here, but there are more wings than hate in this composition. Each note blasts skyward like a rocket, gliding along across dizzying heights. It’s completely captivating, completely intoxicating, and on the whole unnerving, disorienting and beautiful.
When viewed as a whole, this record calls to mind Thomas Hirschhorn’s piece Chromatic Fire; which exhibited at MOCA nearly three years ago. The exhibit consists of nearly a dozen mannequins, each with hundreds or thousands of screws drilled into every inch of their rigid, not-quite-human forms. Nearby televisions beam still images and short looping videos of bodies horrifically mangled from war crimes. It is utterly fascinating, appalling and enrapturing in a single instant. Blanck Mass utilizes a similar palette to draw listeners into Animated Violence Mild. The way it blends menace, death and horror with blistering pop and candied dreams is revolting. Like a body covered in honey and eaten alive by flies, it’s something you can’t look away from; it’s all viscera and bubblegum. It’s alluring because there is nothing like it, few would have dared to make this record, and fewer could do it right. Because of that it again shifts the paradigm like World Eater and Tarot Sport did before it.
Animated Violence Mild is particularly distinct from World Eater, which as its cover promised, was all teeth and cold steel. This is beyond that; and again as indicated by the cover, more deeply unnatural than anything you’re likely to hear this year, or maybe in your entire lifetime. Dogs are supposed to have teeth, but apples don’t bleed. That mind-blowing combination of violence and sweetness makes for a more unnerving, difficult to reconcile experience than anything that has been released in a long time.
I hope this review has made you uncomfortable, all the talk of gore and vomited skittles because that’s exactly how you should feel listening to this record. Wallow in it, because if you listen long enough and loud enough, it becomes abundantly clear that this record is more than just a blood-soaked Pollack, it’s a mirror. Deep down I’m capable of this, you’re capable of this, everyone you know pushed to the edge could make this nightmare a reality. That’s where the fear comes from, not from stumbling upon a car crash and seeing pieces of what was once a human being in places they shouldn’t be, it’s knowing that it could’ve been you dismembered so callously, or you doing so to someone else. And worst of all, just like the faceless woman consuming the apple on the cover, you’d become comfortable with all the carnage after long enough. A dedicated listen will inspire fear and awe in equal turns, providing tears to fill your eye, but pouring on enough malice to make you buy a night-light. There is little else like it; this is the purest form of joy and disgust, of love and hate.