About 10 years ago, a band called Liturgy released their debut record, Aesthetica. Along with the album, frontwoman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix released a sort of manifesto titled Transcendental Black Metal. The manifesto itself is complex, verbose, intriguing and a bit woo-woo, but it does provide a useful glimpse into the mindset and musical ethos of Hunt-Hendrix. A critical element of the manifesto is its explanation of how her new form of black metal, transcendental black metal, recognizes that a mountaintop of extremity and sound becomes a dull plateau after long enough. Its final realization is that extreme music requires dynamics if it is to reach maximum intensity. While FACS isn’t aiming to accomplish the same things as Liturgy, the variance in their sonic choices and dynamic range reveals a similar ethos. It’s also what makes their latest record, Present Tense, so compelling.
From the jump, it’s clear that FACS has no interest in conforming to any sort of genre conventions. The opening track of the record, “XOUT,” is more akin to sludge metal than just about anything else. Grimy bass lines create a propulsive, disgusting groove upon which psychedelic guitars and bored vocals are overlaid. It pulls the listener into an ever-churning build that, mercifully, breaks into a crescendo towards the end of the track. If people were expecting this particular sound to continue, they’d quickly be dissuaded of that notion at the intro of “Strawberry Cough.” No longer metal-esque, FACS pushes into a post-punk space of slow, driving instruments deployed in a way that is just outside the bounds of the conventional. Listening to it, people will sense something “off,” but it’s close enough to conventional that it might not raise the alarm.
However, the alarms won’t stay silent long. “Alone Without” opens with a noisy feedback drone that feels as though it’d be more at home on an early Earth record. The nearly 10-minute track continues in this pattern for a majority of its runtime as if it were shedding unprepared or close-minded listeners. Much of the record continues in a similar fashion to the opening moments. Flitting between sludge metal and post-punk combinations, the album disorients anyone looking for a foothold. Thankfully, the scramble for safety is thrilling on its own merits. Most of the back half of the record is heavier, implementing more sludge-filled tones through tracks like “General Public,” “Present Tense” and “How To See In The Dark.” Of course, they did throw people one final curveball with “Mirrored,” which utilizes an overwhelming wall of sound that echoes the most abrasive performances from Dinosaur Jr.. For the noise fans, it’s a thrill ride. For the uninitiated, hanging on will take every ounce of strength.
It’s uncommon for bands to have such a powerful command of these shifts and changes. Many bands stay loud the whole time for this simple reason. But the dynamics at play in Present Tense are its greatest assets. Without them, the wall of sound would lose its imposing presence and tumble to the ground as though it were the construction of a child. Thankfully, the valleys are there to make the mountains stand all the taller.