NOTE: The band stylizes their name as “meth.” Lower case, with a period. For the sake of legibility in this review, I have removed the period, and use capitalization as grammar needs dictate.
Every musical artist, at one point or another, attempts to create a collection of songs that function both individually and as a collective. Any shmuck can write ten songs and release them all at once (I would know, because I’ve been that schmuck), but it takes vision and intention to shape those tunes into a singular experience, where each piece is perfectly set to create a larger image. Every track, every suite, every note fits exactly where it is, following what came before and leading to what comes next. There is power in presentation, in sequence, and the latest record by experimental noisecore collective meth harnesses this power to its fullest potential.
Mother of Red Light plays like a recording of a black mass, ceaselessly wavering beauty and darkness, all the time conjuring something terrifying. Meth employs dynamics heavily within their tunes: “Swallowed Conscience” bookends a wandering rhythmic passage with hectic beats and raking high notes, while the opening track “Failure” sprinkles a couple ultra-quiet chords directly before launching into a maelstrom of distorted chaos. And while a lot of the energy shifts are abrupt and unannounced, meth also works for the slow burn: “Inbred” lays a foundation of a repetitive, mesmeric drumbeat, over which the guitars and vocals slowly bloom from weird into wrathful.
Meth clearly know very well how to employ volume and energy shifts, but its when they’re at full blast that they’re at their best. The drums stack blastbeats onto trudging lows and overdriven bass, constructing an altar of rhythm upon which the panicky, dissonant guitars are sacrificed to the record’s titular mistress. The vocals guide the songs along like a chorus of ghouls, painful screams layered over caustic growls and too-quiet whispers. While much of the dissonance on this record stems from the grindy slightly-out-of-tune guitars, meth leans full on into this noise with churning sections of pure electronic bedlam and harsh tones that grate the teeth and the ears.
All this intensity and dissonance allow meth to breed a wholly unsettling atmosphere within Mother of Red Light. Every aspect of this album seems intentionally shaped to make the listener uncomfortable. Meth slips into and out of odd time signatures without warning, or forces off-kilter rhythmic patterns onto riffs, making the very movement of their music difficult to anticipate or follow. Disturbing sonic hums sit in the open spaces, not quite silence and yet not quite sound, mixed with barely-audible speaking that only a straining ear can really even begin to decipher. Even the lines between separate tracks are blurred: “Inbred” ends with the same drum beat that opens “Cold Prayers,” while the closing chord of “Failure” carries right into “Child of God” with only a slight pitch shift to announce the change.
Mother of Red Light plays like a horror movie, and it is that use of suspense that ties every element on this record together. The band builds tension in their tunes by letting them sprawl; song sections unwind slowly, deliberately, introducing darkness at a sluggish pace before snapping forward with hungry jaws. This is especially prominent in the noise element, where the opening screeches of “Failure” or the immersive sonic bridge of “The Walls, They Whisper” act like incidental scoring in a slasher film, emphasizing the terror inherent in the music. Mother is a lesson in anticipation and reward, patiently lulling us into a false sense of control, only to tear it all away at a whim with bombastic chugs and pugilistic drumming.
If the Mother of Red Light is Her name, then the roiling mass of music on this album is Her body. Meth’s hyperfocus on tension and release is the beating heart behind this monstrous record, and every single decision is designed to uphold this theme. This is a band committed to making something larger than just a collection of songs, and Mother absolutely feels both cohesive and cogent. This record truly feels like a summons, and each new listen finds me looking over my shoulder more and more, waiting for Her to arrive.
My Top Track: “Psalm of Life”
Mother of Red Light is out via Prosthetic Records. You can stream the album on Spotify or grab a vinyl or CD copy from their Bandcamp page. For all things meth (band, not drug), check out their Facebook page.