4 out of 5
Label: Auris Apothecary
Produced by: Andy Nelson
You’re right, you caught me: I’m a damn sucker for exactly this kind of hardcore thrash: short song length; blazing guitar wizardry; tight, blistering percussion; and – where I draw a line between preferences here versus my post-hardcore tastes – a technical sharpness and clarity to the production. I can dig on groups like Gridlink or Discordance Axis, but I feel like I’m missing a lot of cool stuff behind the rather purposeful lo-fi, one take vibe. But right out of the gates on A Bastion of Et Cetera, I can tell Disperser have nailed the ratio of insanity and control that makes me froth with appreciative glee: scales of guitar licks, unshowy but varied; tight, dizzyingly enthused drumming, though always in sync to what the song needs and crystal clear, with the vocals – credited to both guitarist Joel Henline and drummer Thomas O’Connel – showing an actual range of styles between talk-shouts and growls and screams, which parallels the way the duo skips between thrash, and breakdowns, and occasional bouts of outre mathy stuff.
This variation is a huge component: thrash albums, with their 1- to 2-minute runtimes, can be hard-pressed to hold my interest across several tracks, even if the overall album is short. This is true other “limited” genres, like 3-chord punk; all the individual songs can rock, but for me, there needs to be some other element that pushes beyond the core ingredients to keep the recording alive the whole way through. And Disperser doesn’t spare that: there’s a whole lot of variation within the loud and fast template here, making each song have distinct moments and giving the whole listen a real shape. I do wish the recording / mixing from Andy Nelson played that up a bit more – the mix feels rather flat, leveling out those variations and not punching up some bigger or quieter moments for their best effect; it just leaves a little bit of Oomph on the table.
Lyrically, Bastion is promising, though errs toward somewhat vague imagery of angst. I hate brushing writing off like that, as I’m sure / I hope it has meaning for the lyricist, and the emotion comes through, even if I don’t necessarily think the imagery is super strong. But I did say ‘promising:’ some of this stuff carries a concept through really well from beginning to end, such as concluding track Mapped Habits (also an album standout). I do always appreciate a lyric sheet.
Also, bonus points for cover artwork that makes me uncomfortable. Really digging the rest of the artist’s works: http://www.sethscantlen.com/.