4 out of 5
Label: Computer Students
Produced by: Steve Albini, Greg Norman
Big’N burned bright in the early / mid 90s and then dissolved, reconvening in the last decade or so for some on and off releases and maintaining their original m.o.: stop and start guitar, bass, and drums, post-rock riffing with a heavy-emphasis on low-end crunch, and Bill Atkins throat-searing snarl o’er top. That formula worked intensely well those 25ish years ago, and it continues to do so, including on their 2020 6 song EP, Knife of Sin.
Working with like-minded, common compatriot Steve Albini, the group’s pummeling punch is intact, and as threatening and dangerous sounding as ever, swaggering between slow build-ups and stuttering blasts of distortion and gusto. Big’N tends to supersede some of the straight-forward hardcore / post-rock heft of their peers through control and nuance: breaking away from all-out aggression for some clear-plucked fills; leaning in to all out noise terror, but kept grounded with an always-strong backbone. “Knife of Sin” stays close to this concept, either giving us instantly killer riffs up front – opener Snake Eater, the title track – or by building up to the same, such as on closer Sunk. It is, admittedly, a somewhat limited concept, but that’s why the short burst of an EP works incredibly well. Indeed, the only track that lacks the same, guttural punch is when Hog Hell tries to mix it up a get a bit punkier. It’s a good track, but its streamlining strips away the push-and-pull dynamics otherwise employed.
Deciphering Atkins’ growls can be difficult, but the splattering of adjectives on the packaging, designed by band member Brian Wnukowski, are rather telling of the vibe: “fire,” “black,” “howls,” “wept,” etc. The whole presentation from new label Computer Students is impressive, packaged in their sterile, ziplocked silver baggie – like you’re veritably unleashing something volatile when you open it up for the first time – and pressed on great sounding, heavy-weight vinyl.
It’s definitely a welcome reappearance for the group, and just as good of an intro to their bluster as anything from their catalogue.