2019 has been quite a year for the genre of grindcore. I’ve already covered a few of the year’s grindiest and grossest releases, and when I kept seeing No One Knows What the Dead Think (the band) popping up over and over on social media, I figured I would be in for a nice blasty treat with their new self-titled. But No One Knows What the Dead Think (the album) turns the genre on its head, brushing the grind ethos of fast songs and chaotic performances with a remarkable sense of melody and a novel approach to listener engagement.
True to its genre label, No One Knows What the Dead Think races along at a breakneck pace. Only one song breaks the 2:30 mark, the band cramming as many notes as possible into the diminutive song frames. High notes screech from the guitars like wailing banshees, punctuated by chunky chugs and grimy chord riffing that changes almost too quickly to track. Yet drummer Kyosuke Nakano manages somehow to play even faster than the guitar, slamming syncopated cymbal hits amid neverending blastbeats. Both players work wholly in sync, matching every hit and chug so perfectly that they might as well be sharing one mind.
While this record certainly hits all the touchstones of a classic grind record, No One Knows What the Dead Think moves far beyond superfast drumming and ugly chords. Mathy guitar riffs and odd time signatures point almost to a prog influence, while the speedpicked leads of tunes like “Rakuyo” and “Sayaka” leave some of the songs feeling more like black metal than grind. The album’s centerpiece “Cinder” strays even further—both Rob Marton’s guitar tone and melody-heavy composition call to mind the work of Tony Iommi during the early years of Black Sabbath. Indeed, the entirety of this record is far more melodic and bright than I would ever expect from the genre—I’ve never heard major-key grindcore before, but damn, I’m into it.
No One Knows What the Dead Think sounds a bit prettier than I would expect, but there is certainly no lack for hard-hitting heaviness. In fact, some of the hardest, grittiest tone on No One Knows What the Dead Think stem from the vocals of Jon Chang. While the lyrics are hardly intelligible, the deliveries are dripping with vitriol and energy. Chang’s voice runs amok through the high registers, launching into fearful shrieks and guttural growls atop the undulating instrumentation. These gravelly, retching screams cement some darkness against the lighter tones, giving this record a very dynamic array of energies that the band stretches to extremity.
Honestly, Chang’s screaming might be my favorite part of this record, but these songs absolutely stand on their own without a vocal focal point, as the second half of this record demonstrates. No One Knows What the Dead Think have provided us with not one, but two versions of the album: the first half composed of the completed songs, and the second “karaoke” half made up of instrumental mixes of the same tracks. This idea of providing both versions to the listener, and in fact daring them to try and fill Chang’s parts themselves, is one of the strangest but also coolest ideas in a long while. No One Knows What the Dead Think is the first record I’ve seen ever include a space for the listener to actively participate in the music. Whether anyone is daring enough to try and replicate Chang’s high-pitched keen is another story, but just leaving a space open where your fans can actively join into your music makes me want to give it a try myself.
Between lightspeed tempos, melodic guitar work, and pugnacious blastbeats, this record breathes a totally new energy into the genre of grindcore. With their self-titled, No One Knows What the Dead Think have the audacity to bring colorful, consonant tones into a sound known for grimy chaos, making for a remarkably refreshing listening experience. Their decision to challenge the idea of a recorded album by inviting listeners to participate blurs the lines between artist and acolyte, and has me rethinking entirely what type of experience musicians can provide to their followers. No One Knows What the Dead Think just pushed the bar a couple of notches higher for both grind bands and grind fans—but if I know anything about both groups, that challenge has already been accepted.
My Top Track(s): “Autumn Flower” and “Red Echoes/Dominion”
No One Knows What the Dead Think is out via Willowtip Records; you can grab a physical copy on Bandcamp or stream the album on Spotify. For all things No One Knows What the Dead Think, follow them on Facebook.