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Lightning Bolt - Hypermagic Mountain

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Artist: Lightning Bolt

Album: Hypermagic Mountain

Label: Load

Review date: Oct. 9, 2005


Although Lightning Bolt has existed since the late 90s, it was only with 2001s landmark Ride the Skies that the Providence, Rhode Island duo began garnering praise as the supposed cream of the noise crop. But labeling these Brians (Gibson on bass, Chippendale on drums and vocals) simply as noise artists places them in confines that don't necessarily do them justice. Granted, their music can be extreme, loud, and, well, noisy much in the same way as contemporaries such as Wolf Eyes and Black Dice. But at the same time, Lightning Bolt's music has become increasingly more concerned with rock dynamics. For all of their experimental leanings, this duo seems to delight in an assemblage of metal and hardcore riffs and breakdowns, all tightly compacted and delivered with a speed and intensity that seems to prefigure an immanent collapse.

Hypermagic Mountain is the band's fourth full-length. Originally, the rumor had been that the Bolt was going to enter the world of improvised music with their newest album. However, this doesn't necessarily seem to be the case (at least, no more so than any of their previous outings). The word is, though, that an improv disc may still be on the way in 2006. At any rate, their latest barely deviates from their back catalogue or their history of fourth-wall shattering shows. In other hands this would undoubtedly be problematic. But for Lightning Bolt, a band that has helped write the book on the modern sub-genre of music referred to in the mainstream press as "noise rock," the tighter songs and musicianship (coupled with slightly higher production values that gives the bass more definition and the bass drum a firmer kick) has succeeded in closing the gap that exists between their live shows (mind-blowing, all encompassing, good time fests) and their records (which could never quite capture the feeling of being trapped in a tiny space with these two wailing away on the floor amidst an undulating mass of folks). Essentially, the Brians don't really need to innovate that much anymore and instead are just fine-tuning their craft in glorious ways.

So things resume pretty much where we last left our heroes. Hypermagic Mountain opens with a killer one-two punch in the form of the triumphant herald of "2 Morro Morro Land" and the infinitely more ominous "Captain Caveman." The former follows Gibson ringing out his bass lines against Chippendale's tumbling percussion, while the latter pursues a pummeling throb of bass drum kicks and scattershot fills only to tighten the reigns for some of the heaviest riffing these two have ever conjured. Elsewhere, "Megaghost" becomes an appropriate title, what with Chippendale using the opening to affect some nifty delayed shrieks with his voice before merging that with some more high octane instrumental interplay. "Magic Mountain" explores tension building, climaxing in a display of Gibson's bass proficiency.

The entire second half of the album plays like one long, mind-melting suite as Lightning Bolt pushes themselves closer and closer to the brink of collapse and utter disarray without ever succumbing. "Dead Cowboy" and "Mohawkwindmill" are the most intense workouts here, with the band finding a twisted groove and holding it for increasingly longer periods of time, drawing it all out and hammering subtly changing repetitions into the ground with distorting bass and octopus-limbed percussion.

And there you have it. The elements that Lightning Bolt use for their own music are generally recognizable tropes from metal and hardcore (along with a liberal sprinkling of Japanese experimental insanity, a la Ruins and early Boredoms). But whereas the American devotees of those forms can come across with a rigid orthodoxy that's nigh on humorless, there's an underlying sense of fun, as if anything goes in the Brians' world. To amend an old axiom for the case of these two gentlemen: if it ain't broke, play harder.

By Michael Crumsho

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