Splintered Metal Sky by White HillsRelease date: October 24, 2020
Label: God Unknown
I don’t think I’ve had the privilege of reviewing a White Hills album before. I’ve been listening to Stop. Mute. Defeat. for years and consider ‘Overlord’ to be one of the best songs to ever spew out of the psych genre. Their work with the almighty GNOD (aka the best band in the known universe) on Aquarian Downer and the Drop Out albums has also been very close to my heart for years, so I have a feeling that I’m going to really enjoy Splintered Metal Sky.
After a piercing noise-intro that sounds like a pissed-off dial-up modem, ‘Now Manhattan’ stomps into the album with a neck-shrinkingly fat bassline. The vocals are classic White Hills, oddly sexual dual lead singing with an alluringly seedy and volatile dichotomy. They’re like real life vampires, there’s something erotic about the way they carry themselves, but there’s always the chance they could drain all of your blood on a whim. The electronics in this track are amazing, I don’t know if it’s a guitar or a synth or what, but it sounds like a police siren wailing out in agony. It’s also just really fucking lyrically captivating, each time they slither out “the grease of a hundreds hands”, I contemplate it further. Such a bizarre ear worm.
One thing I like about this album is its use of transitional tracks in a similar manner to Pink Floyd or Nine Inch Nails. Roughly half the tracks on this release are passages leading in or out of the music to ensure that the overall sequencing is solid. These ambient noise sections feel like they tie into the industrial sounding title of the album and the band’s previous themes around surveillance and critique of governments and military. There is one track that is simply a short sample saying “have no fear”. Fear is the great motivator, it’s used to manipulate and it manifests itself as a conserving force, paralysing people, halting progress, blindsiding risks. As the band in violet once said “if fear is the weakness, then everyone falls”. Follow your heart, don’t ever give in to fear; don’t read the papers, don’t trust the government and when people spend billions trying to convince you of something, assume that it’s bogus. Money can’t buy the truth.
‘Digital Trash’ has amazing bass/synth parts. It seems very simple but, it just sounds perfect. The backing vocals sound fucking brilliant as well, like muffled barks almost dehumanised. I love the production, the guitar sounds brilliant, it feels like it’s flying. This kind of feels like it could be a viable single for the band. The rhythm of the lyrics has a Radar Men From The Moon vibe but, they’re so esoteric whilst also being totally effective: “the orgy of chaos is the art of information, speak of morality, action is reality”. It’s so catchy. I love it!
Where ‘Digital Trash’ stands out for its infectious vocals, ‘Honesty’ is a highlight for it’s avant-garde industrial sound. It’s almost antithetical as it buries the vocals in noisy collisions reminiscent of Einsturzende Neubaten. Of course the vocals still sound brilliant, but they’re being pummelled to hell by a fucking massive bass sound and circus of electronic chaos. After about three full tracks, I can safely say Splintered Metal Sky is fucking brilliant!
Where to even start when talking about ‘Rats’? The way it erupts out of ‘bCoNSTRUCT’ is amazing. The bass is so thick, it feels like syrup dripping out of my speakers and the guitar is almost reminiscent of Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place’, in fact all of the playing on this album seems to fly away as we approach it. The backing vocals are excellent and the drums are fucking huge. I wish we could hear Paddy Shine doing some vocals on the “no one one is part of the trust” sections, that’d be fucking magnificent. If you’re reading this White Hills, please do that at a future gig. It’d be so cool.
‘Numbers’ is an interesting change of direction, it’s like a much better version of Born Villain-era Marilyn Manson. There’s kind of like neo-noir strip club sounding instrumental and spooky whispered vocals that just ooze Manson, but it’s a lot more well-executed than anything the “God of Fuck” has put out in the past twenty years. For whatever reason though, it doesn’t seem to really grip me as viscerally as the other songs. I still really like the production and the role it has in the album, but it feels morel like it’s carrying me to a different peak.
The album closer ‘Illusion’ sounds fucking brilliant. The monolithic slabs of noise that open it are just awesome. The only issue I have with this song is that I can’t hear the “we all fall down” refrain without thinking of Limmy’s Homemade Show. Unfortunately, that basically ruins this for me, the song is so well-written though. It’s fucking great, but that line just makes me laugh every time. It’s a brilliant piece of music though, I really like the structuring and the guitar work. I should note that I also enjoy the drums and general percussion throughout this album, but I’m definitely more geared to lyrics and melody as a guitarist/vocalist. So that’s where my ears tend to lead me.
Splintered Metal Sky is yet another spectacularly sultry and serpentine album that will fit in nicely with White Hills’ already stellar discography. Add this to your record of the year frontrunners.