The very first piece of music writing that I ever did was a set of odd, impressionistic postcard-length reviews of heavy metal albums for Hellbound. I had no idea how to write an album review, so instead I wrote a poem for each record. It’s a form I have returned to from time to time, when simple analysis seems inadequate. I wrote a collection of them more recently for Toronto Standard, broken into two sets, one for each of the records on the 2012 Polaris Prize long list.
I’m trying the form out again here, as a regular series. I plan to write them for any album that troubles me, makes me itch, and defies my attempt to talk about them in traditional music journalism terms; also, records that stuck a harpoon in my brain, but that I did not have the opportunity to discuss in another forum.
Corb Lund — Cabin Fever (New West Records)
While nylon and cotton rope may be softer to the touch and easier to wear, there’s a lot to be said for the harsh, burlap prickle of cowboy hemp. Struggling leaves burns, defiance a visible chafing. It rewards languid stillness, and leaves the best ligature marks. Combines well with the sharp clink of a spur or boot buckle just out of your frame of vision, the smell of leather. One long sob.
Evening Hymns — Spectral Dusk (Shuffling Feet)
Something there is nothing to be done for it but to open up a vein. The fat, thick arterial blood becomes a dark pool for scrying. Organs are no good for this — the heart already broken, the liver sodden — so we just bleed out, and read in the red heat how we can possibly take another breath. Steam rises from a neat red pool in the snow. Heirloom becomes tourniquet. A deer approaches, shyly.
The Luyas — Animator (Paper Bag Records)
There is a game I play called the World’d Worst Poltergeist. Whenever I lose something small, discover a plate has a new hairline crack, watch a glass leap off the table of its own accord, I blame it on the poltergeist. Only, my poltergeist is terrible, incapable of opening a hell dimension or even frightening anyone; the most it can manage, even if I notice it is up to something, is mild annoyance. But, while it might only manifest is suddenly cold tea and a cracked smartphone screen, even a terrible poltergeist means that your house is haunted. There is always a particular price to pay when you combine hospitality and the dead.
Crystal Castles — (III) (Last Gang)
Not a single example has come from a documented excavation, but they emerge from time to time in relic shops, in the hands of antiques dealers, mailed anonymously to the curator of the Smithsonian. Lovely as rock candy but jaw shattering. Fierce memento mori, gritted teeth, furiously angry that death demands a grin. Bioluminescent and capable of generating its own strange energy.
Metz — Metz (Sub Pop)
Noise raised to the level of virtue, and there is value in that. But herein lies the problem: when Pitchfork reviewed this record they called Metz “the most brutalizing band in the city,” which has become the refrain for how pop writers talk about it. As though it popped out of a warp pipe, into a universe where aggressive music didn’t exist. This is a city that is also home to the likes of Sacrifice, Cursed, Cancer Bats, Column of Heaven. Metz have never been properly places in context and therefore I am suspicious, a sword that only keeps the company of shovels.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a poet and music writer based in Toronto, Ontario. Her second book of poetry, DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains, was published by Insomniac Press this spring. You can follow her on Twitter at @NatalieZed.