Polish band Blindead come highly recommended and when you speak to the passionate few who have been lucky enough to see them in the flesh those recommendations are often delivered in the hushed, awe-filled tones of those who saw Isis or Neurosis on stage. Cast in a similar mould, Blindead are a band capable of producing both subtle hypnotic soundscapes and huge swathes of molten, guitar fuelled fury, often In the same song, and here on ‘affliction xxix ii mxmvi’, the band have stretched their abilities to cover one story over an ambitious seven song cycle.
Opening with ‘Self-consciousness is desire’, you are introduced straight into a darkened basement in a horror movie. Water drips in some unseen corner and the music is gentle yet deeply unnerving, causing the flesh on your arms to rise up in anticipation of the lurking horrors to come. Suddenly a clean guitar pierces the gloom, heightening tension and the vocals do little to alleviate that tension, given their desperate and yearning nature. As the music builds, separate elements slowly fading into the mix you know that it’s only a matter of time before the storm breaks and when it does – the guitars slamming into you bodily and the drums propelling you against the wall – it’s almost a relief. The music is gloriously, unconventionally heavy, recalling the grand psychosis of Neurosis’ ‘through silver in blood’ and the rolling kick drum attack and seething bass are perfectly produced to keep the whole thing sounding satisfyingly brutal. With multiple shifts in sound and style across the opening track, there is a healthy dose of progressive-rock attached to the band’s searing sound, but as with bands such as Tool, the quieter passages only serve to emphasise how crushing the metal sections are and the riff at the end of the first track simply has to be heard to be believed. It is, simply, a stunning, eye-opening introduction to a band who should be trumpeted from every alt-metal rooftop. Unique, unforgiving and intelligent this is everything that a metal fan should want from their music and it is played to perfection by a band who are obviously dedicated beyond the call of duty.
‘After 38 weeks’ segues directly out of the first track and it couples spoken-word vocals with some stunningly melodic guitar work. It is unexpected and yet the sun-dappled melodies work and it sounds amazing, recalling elements of black-metallers-turned-ambient-pioneers Ulver thanks to the downbeat vocal approach and subtle elements such as synth and trumpet used to build the track. It is beyond the power of my words to honestly describe this, or indeed, any of the tracks here with the clarity they deserve and I can only suggest you track down a copy (courtesy of Mystic who have an English language website) as soon as you possibly can. As a screaming baby leads you into the guitar-heavy ‘my new playground became’ you can’t help but wonder if this isn’t how Pink Floyd might have sounded in our day and age – certainly there are nuances of the dark-hearted Roger Water’s dominated Floyd amidst the searing guitars and when you realise that this album is, in reality, a single track that has been broken up on CD only for convenience, you start to understand that this is a complete record, designed to be absorbed in one sitting in the manner of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’, ‘lateralus’ or ‘Crack the Skye’ and it is certainly no exaggeration to place Blindead alongside those masterpieces.
‘Dark and grey’, is a darkly psychedelic trip through piano, feedback and disembodied voices haranguing you in the darkness, creating an air of distinct discomfort as each melody is broken down into static and bass-heavy noise. Shifting in one easy move from progressive to sludge in the vein of Buzzov*en, the piano adds a touch of light to the almost unbearable darkness, with the heavily distorted vocals offering no hope at all, and it is something of a release when ‘so it feels like misunderstanding when’ crawls out of the static and resembles a more traditional song than the previous dark void of screaming agony and confusion. Of course, the band were never going to make it too simple for you to follow, so when the guitars suddenly fall away and you’re left with Patryk Zwolinski’s vocals set bravely to drums alone, it is if the tension and fear has finally given way to dull resignation, resonant with loss and despair, only to be replaced once more by rage when the guitars return in vicious thrusts, penetrating the gloom and lancing the apathy before it’s too late. As the drums take on a tribal aspect and the guitars weave their magic around you, you are struck by how the band manage to so delicately interpolate beauty and savagery and amazed by how well the musicians work together, no-one trying to overshadow the others, just working hard to create the most remarkable piece of music that they can.
‘All my hopes and dreams turn into’ opens with a simple bass throbbing in the darkness, the previous track having slowly faded away, before a gentle guitar chimes out. It is another track that favours subtlety over direct assault and the result is a moment of striking, post-rock beauty that slowly bends further and further out of shape until something snaps and a riff made of concrete cuts through everything, tearing the mood to shreds and storming to the end where you finally reach ‘affliction xxvii ii mmix’, a stunning coda that slowly draws you to the end of the album and leaves you, a mere forty minutes after the first bars, feeling as if you’ve experienced one of those rare life-changing albums that alters the perception you have of what can and should be done with music.
Having re-read this review several times it struck me that I may be too fulsome in my praise. I have listened to this album, now, to the point that I am convinced that I was not. Every listen brings out something new. Listening at different volumes and through speakers or headphones unveils different, previously missed elements, and depending on the day your favourite moment will change. Like a classical piece, the album is one complete piece of music which ebbs and flows but which does not truly end until the CD ceases to spin. Better still the band incorporate so many different elements that in the end they sound only like themselves. Sure you can point to Neurosis in places, Pink Floyd in others, hints of Pearl jam towards the outro, moments of Led Zeppelin and so on, but what’s the point? Blindead are simply an amazing band and this remarkable record is a work of art that I shall treasure over the years. Up there with Dirge’s recent, stunning, opus, this is a heavy, progressive, dark, beautiful , epic masterpiece.