Distress Test by Orchestra Of Constant DistressRelease date: February 23, 2018
Label: Riot Season Records
Six awkward, oil slicked, chunks of heavy, remorseless, grind. Orchestra Of Constant Distress are a four man noise machine featuring a couple of Skull Defekts and a Brainbomb in their grimy workings. Distress Test is the sort of fierce noise rock you might expect from them, but less so. Defiantly, monomaniacally less so.
Casting aside decorative considerations like subject matter, song structure, tension and release dynamics, melody or chord progressions as mere crowd pleasing indulgences they gouge into rock in tight ugly circles. Magnificently disfigured guitars and rough, squealing electronic textures wail over steady churning beats. Distress Test is aptly named and its tracks are entitled like a scale of the listener’s discomfort running from 1 – ‘Not At All’ through to 6 – ‘Very Much’.
This culminates in the wry amusement of a ten minute slab of brutal, howling, directionless noise being called ‘Quite A Lot’. Like a vicar sipping tea and somewhat diffidently expressing his enjoyment of the winning cake at the village fair bake off. This scale suggests some kind of deepening or intensification of the assault and while ‘Quite A Lot’ is an absolute face melter and final track ‘Very Much’ allows the tiniest sliver of light and space into things it’s an illusion, the barrage is constant.
The conceit of the titles in fact affirms the six tracks as parts of a whole while systematically scouring them of external reference or any poetic reading. The music is an intense reduction down to the barest, most abstract essence of rock, an elemental locked groove with an admirably stubborn refusal to deviate or develop, the surface textures alter but nothing goes anywhere. The Orchestra is like a tunnel boring machine grinding its gears in granite but pressing on because it can do nothing else. The discipline involved in achieving something like this is extraordinary. On the face of it making a bunch of repetitive noise grooves seems easy enough, but there is tremendous rigour in their construction and performance here and considerable skill in maintaining interest within such tightly controlled parameters.
Weirdly, there’s something intensely puritanical about it, the casting out of indulgence and weakness. No solos, no showing off, no emotional incontinence. Their approach seems to push ego out of the equation. There’s stoic self denial in making music that shuts out all possibility for self expression. Where does it come from? Sinking into it, even the familiar anger, abjection and murky id energies of noise rock aren’t there either. It’s like a mortification. There’s no beginning and no end, no direction of travel, you can drop into the album, or individual tracks, at any point. The level of distress is possibly so intense it doesn’t really do well to take it in more than small doses. Medicinal. If it reminds me of anything it’s Lee Ranaldo’s locked groove masterpiece From Here To Infinity, it has the same devotion to structure and texture above all.
Freed from wondering where the music might be heading or any compelled reading you can sit and consider the surroundings. If cavemen had painted subtly nuanced monochrome abstractions on their walls.