We’re suckers for a concept album and if it comes strapped with the promise of a gloomy internal voyage, then so much the better! It was with excited trepidation that we booted up the second album from New Jersey dissonance-loving Technical Death Metal experimentalists, Dystrophy; these five musical frontiers-men offering the courageous listener a ‘highly personal’ album narrating isolation and dread that spirals into eventual madness.
That’s right: this ain’t no Taylor Swift record! But one thing Dystrophy do have in common with that aforementioned corporate stooge is that they both feature a pleasant absence of standard issue Death Metal imagery. For that reason, Wretched Host seems quite sincere, earnest and grounded in reality but that’s where its links to reality definitively end. Opener, “Apex”, immediately betrays their jazz leanings to the strains of a mournful violin melody from Benjamin Karas and the chugging riffs and schizophrenic drumming challenge you from the get-go; yet even these elements seem almost conventional compared with things to come.
Oh yes. Did we forget to mention Dystrophy are a complete bunch of freaks!
If you’ve witnessed bands like Sikth bend clever guitar playing to the limits of tunefulness, if you’ve heard the clashing refrains of Emperor at their most progressive and you know how the likes of Voivod build riffs out of wilful dissonance, then you’ll understand the kind of trip Dystrophy are on. That said, nothing could have prepared us for just how utterly bizarre some of Wretched Host sounds. Strings are bent, tremolo systems are pushed all the way down only to be pulled upwards in queasy washes of noise, all to the beat of a drummer who rarely settles, jerking from guttural blasts to expressive fills and mathematical syncopation. In truth, it’s exhausting and we found ourselves yearning for the moment when Dystrophy would give us time to breathe. And they do… kind of.
There aren’t hooks or refrains as such, but the band do have a propensity to break their songs down into the occasional funereal grind and it is here that they are at their most dazzling. There is a particularly cool phase on “Exoparasite”, which grows progressively more woozy and feverish until it all but evaporates into a wash of psychedelic noise. It couldn’t fit the album subject matter more beautifully.
Dystrophy’s guitarists are excellent technicians and the nods to cutting edge techniques are, for the most part, brilliantly executed. But rather than trying to convey excessive flashiness, the two Peters – Brown and Lloyd – seem intent on sounding as insane as possible with “Anhedonia” containing some particularly unhinged sections. Bassist and vocalist Greg Bueno puts in a workmanlike performance delivering the guttural growls and a smatter of pained screams, though this is the sole area where Wretched Host sounds like standard genre fare. The production is fine, but sounds a little muddy in the low mid-range, the unfortunate result being that some of Matt Thompson’s percussive artistry is lost.
Wretched Host is a very challenging journey. Bottom line: if you want to get the most out of it, you must invest. It opens up more with each listen and it wasn’t until our third, focussed run through that the personality of some of the stronger songs began to ring true. Dystrophy’s commercial appeal is resolutely limited but you get the impression that they are in it for the art, not as a career choice and that’s exactly why we should support them.
In short, this is a fantastic album that, despite an absence of songs about murder, rape and global annihilation, could quite easily scare the bejesus out of (non-Metal) children. Wretched Host is out of the box and off its face, head and tits – that’s exactly why we love it! 8/10