Wreck and Reference is a California based experimental doom / noise band. While their style of music is hard to pin down to one specific label it does what you would expect with a genre by greatly expanding upon it, pulling from and seamlessly reworking a vast array of haunting and unsettling sounds. ‘No Youth’ is the band’s debut full-length released on The Flenser.
To me, noise is a rare form of art, one where the concept outweighs the execution. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the sonic qualities of the music but rather I am far more interested in the conceptual elements, more than the musical factors. When I first began listening to noise it was purely out of curiosity, I listened out of intrigue instead of enjoyment, in fact I didn’t enjoy it at all, I hated it. Still, there was this morbid disgust that compelled me to revisit it, that maybe somehow I would figure out what it was that made this music interesting, what redeeming value anyone could see in it that I couldn’t and then I realized it wasn’t the music itself that I enjoy but rather my fascination with the idea of it that made it enjoyable at first. The idea of listening to noise as music, branding raw unorganized sound as a form of entertainment certainly seems unappealing in concept just as much as it does sonically; the uneducated might even say it is “pretentious” and maybe it would be if noise had not been around since the at least the beginning of the 20th century. With the popularity of the Futurist movement growing, painter Luigi Russolo began seeking a new medium to experiment with and as a reaction toward classical music and instrumentation of that time he created a symphony of his own but instead of using string or piano his instruments were man made machines created for the purpose of composing noise, anti-music to be listened to as music. Lately, there has been an emergence of bands such as Boss-De-Nage, Mamaleek, White Suns, and Have A Nice Life who have began implementing noise within their music which is certainly nothing new when taking into account the non-musical qualities of no-wave, noise rock, and other bands like Jesu and Old Man Gloom who have experimented with including noise in their compositions but it hasn’t been until recently that it has taken a more extreme turn, focusing more on the noisier characteristics while still structuring these components within a musical format. Wreck and Reference are a prominent figure of this new revolution in music.
It has been a while since I’ve sat down and listened to a metal album and found myself in awl of it but then again, maybe that statement will remain true for me because Wreck and Reference are certainly more than a metal band, I’d even go as far to say that aren’t even metal at all, certainly not in the traditional sense. Although Wreck and Reference do preserve distinctive properties found in doom and black metal ‘No Youth’ is certainly not your typical metal album. While the band’s sound is certainly aggressive and intense like metal, it is so in a much different way, a way that favors atmosphere and mood over the traditional straightforward approach, which has become something of a trend amongst home recording acts, most notably Have A Nice Life. Although I do enjoy Have A Nice Life’s ability to touch on the standout characteristics of many diverse styles of music I think Wreck and Reference have taken a much more refined route. Instead of attempting to cram as many genre’s as possible onto one record they pull from their contemporaries, retaining key parts of their stylistic influences with the intention of redefining that sound to create something new altogether.
In terms of their sound, there are many times on ‘No Youth’ where I find myself puzzled, curious to know the origin of a specific texture or sound. According to a number of sources the answer lies in the band’s rejection of the guitar, instead trading strings for buttons and what I mean by that is the band makes use of a sample pad to trigger synth like sounds. That’s right, an instrument most commonly associated with hip-hop and electronic music plays a large roll in crafting the unique sound of ‘No Youth’ which considering the band’s ties to metal may seem off-putting but logically it was inevitable. We live in a time where innovation is key in all aspects of our life, where people’s expectations are constantly being challenged, and where guitars, once a dominant instrument in heavy music are starting to take a back seat as bands such as Wreck and Reference take a more adventurous approach to achieve a heavy and more dynamically sensitive sound. Much like Russolo, Wreck and Reference have taken a similar approach by implementing instruments foreign to the style they play. In a way the band has built their own “noise machines” and with a carefully crafted array of samples at their disposal they are able to introduce this very non-musical factor in a musical way, a kind of controlled chaos. This attention to detail works extremely well in their favor; I believe with the inclusion of a guitar this could have been just another doom metal album (see Pallbearer), it would have felt too comfortable and if you have listened to ‘No Youth’ before reading this review I think you can agree, this is not an album where comfortability is welcomed. The addition of these samples greatly expands the sonic range of their music, spanning the low-end distortion heavy dirge of modern doom to the colorful washes of pulsating and deep noise. At times the samples can sound organic, lush like a creation of nature, sometimes synthetic like an orchestra of clanging machinery, and at other times they can sound rhythmic, very much akin to a guitar.
The vocals are perhaps my favorite part of Wreck and Reference’s sound, which are well ranged, managing to touch on everything from the half-baked shouts of hardcore punk, to caveman-esque howls, to shrill black metal screams, ghastly funeral-doom style singing, and even spoken word and it all fits into the context of what they’re doing very well, putting the focus on their the lyrical principals as well. The lyrics are poetic, vague and surreal hinting at some nightmarish and introspectively haunting occurrence.
The production is also something of a marvel; it’s very well produced but at the same time it has a live sound to it. Much of the time the vocals are shouted and pushed lower in the mix and the drums have this nice roomy live presence; if you’re wanting to get into ‘No Youth’ for it’s metal aspects the drumming retains an obvious hardcore and black metal influence which certainly seems like a fitting marriage given the genre’s lo-fi beginnings. Overall the roomy production adds another level of chaos that would normally only be heard live, a sound that the album carries with it throughout. Even though the production style has this overt live sound the instruments and vocals, when necessary, come through even above the massive walls of noise which gives the music an added layer of depth that I very seldom find on other records.
‘No Youth’ is an ambitious effort and while this record certainly isn’t going to be for everyone Wreck and Reference manage to touch on so many different styles that those looking for something specific will be able to relate their specific tastes while the meshing of styles on this record, which feels seamless enough to bring in those looking for more. If a band is to progress risks must be taken and even where Wreck and Reference fail to establish a connection I find that they have succeeded in ways that overshadow their shortcomings. Although Wreck and Reference may put the artistry of their music before technical musicianship, their ability to put their unorthodox creativity to use has resulted in what I feel like a lot of contemporary heavy music strives to achieve but until now has not accomplished to this degree. Similar to what Neurosis did with metal in the 90’s Wreck and Reference are doing something similar and in their own unique way are remolding heavy music into something that is actually heavy but doesn’t force itself to be.
‘No Youth’ is offered as a “name your price” release on Bandcamp but you can also purchase the release on The Flenser which you can find a link to below.
Overall rating: 9.4
Favorite Tracks: ‘Spectrum’, ‘The Solstitial’, ‘I Am A Sieve’, ‘Obedience’
Recommended: Structured chaos.
Released: 15 April 2012