What do you get if you take the restless scathing noise of the Jesus Lizard; replace David Yow’s muffled howls with throat shredding screams and inject this with enough raw ferocity to make Roy Keane a bit scared? Quite simply, the answer is Jowls. Despite being a trio, the Michigan based band spew forth a particularly aggressive and grating form of abrasive hardcore-based catharsis. If you are of a weak disposition and like your music all twee and neatly served up than you’d better make sure you never step within a hundred yards of this record for fear that after getting an aural whiff of its, at times, startling intensity- you may require counselling afterwards. Their debut mini album Cursed is comprised of six tracks of pure unbridled anger and is propelled by a driving rhythm section and a rather surprising understanding of the power of dynamics.
Greeting the listener in the first seconds of opener ‘Ruins’ are the raw unaccompanied screams of guitarist Ryan whose vocal chords produce a scream so piercing and biting it is almost horrifying in its intensity. Scuzzy, double-tracked guitars rattle along like The Jesus Lizard minus the jazzy intuitions. Feedback smothers the opening drumbeat to ‘Shamewalker’, a track the builds in intensity, ending in a hellish freakout. What is also made clear is that this isn’t just sixteen minutes of relentless thrashy noise. When the band do reign the aggression back in, they do so with expertise; the three members increasing the tension like a coiled spring that threatens to explode at any given moment. A stark drumbeat opens ‘Monotoned’, soon joined by a slinking bass line before the grating guitar once again joins the fray and Jowls’ expertly manipulated controlled-chaos is unleashed. The feedback filled outro holds similar noisey post-hardcore leaning as 90’s underground noise lovers Unwound and even 80’s legends Big Black. Lasting little over a minute is ‘Sway Slow’, a breakneck rattling hardcore track that gives drummer Jeff a chance to show off his chops as the band’s dissonant furore is over before you can fully comprehend what is happening. ‘Indian Giver’ hits hard, coming across like Jesus Lizard just after they’ve had a big line of coke as it jerks and writhes towards oblivion. Its central riff is a pummelling force of nature, painfully simple, yet devilishly powerful. Final track ‘Long-winded’ shows Jowls possessing a slight progressive intuition. Not content with ending the record in another two minute torrent of unrelenting anger, they instead create a song that puts emphasis on their accomplished dynamic ability. More than once they bring the song down to a restrained simmer before cleverly unleashing their anger in a hail of shrill screams and caustic noise, even permitting hints of melody to permeate the otherwise discordant guitar.
What instils this record with added kudos is the group’s ability to mould their 90’s throwbacks into thoroughly modern sounding compositions. At times they veer towards the rewired hardcore sounds of the recent “Wave” bands such as La Dispute or Touché Amoré, but their harsh hardcore lies in no particular camp. Instead, the band seem to skirt around the edges of definable sub-sub-genres, pinching segments of sounds from various underground spheres such as noise rock and (real) screamo and throwing them into their uncompromising musical mixing bowl. If you like music that sounds like a full scale assault on the ears than Jowls are for you. Their modern take on a style of underground rock now surpassing its second decade in existence always feels fresh and much more importantly, is delivered with such passion and volatility that it feels rightly vital.
4.5 out of 5 high fives!