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Bottomless Pit - Hammer of the Gods

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Artist: Bottomless Pit

Album: Hammer of the Gods

Label: Comedy Minus One

Review date: Jan. 18, 2008

Almost immediately after drummer Michael Dahlquist was killed in a freakish car crash in 2005, bassist Tim Midgett and guitarist Andy Cohen announced that Silkworm went with him. The band, which had at that point recorded 10 albums over 18 years, fusing the heavy guitar fuzz of classic rock with the difficult rhythms and abrasiveness of post-punk, was over. Midgett and Cohen might very well go on making music, but it wouldn't be Silkworm.

Now two years later, the surviving members of Silkworm (plus Seam's Chris Manfrin and .22's Brian Orchard) have returned with a band called Bottomless Pit and a record called Hammer of the Gods. It sounds very much like Silkworm: the slinky guitar lines erupting into pure blasts of distortion; the chugging, dirge-like tempos; the lyrics laced with bitter intelligence and elliptical discontinuity. What's missing is the wit and joy that pulsed underneath It'll Be Cool or Italian Platinum, the sense that even the bleakest situation was worth a laugh or two. That must have been Dahlquist, because without him the band wanders among Kubler-Ross grief stages: anger, denial, depression.

The whole album is about Dahlquist's death, from the opening observation "When you know they won't show up, when you think it might rain, when you get it in your mind to live again," in "Cardinal Movements" to the eerie sampled (i.e. not live) drums of closer "Sevens Sing." "Dogtag,” maybe the best of these songs, chugs ominously on skeletal drum and bass notes, its vocal melody meandering over tightly structured rhythms. It's ruminative, melancholy, reserved…and then all at once, an explosion of guitar noise comes in, and you realize what was held back all along. "Dead Man's Blues," midway through, has a line about lying in a street with cars running over. (Dahlquist and two others died when a woman trying to commit suicide rammed her car into theirs; she survived and has since been found guilty of reckless homicide.) It's the kind of song that Silkworm has always done, it back-slanting staccato rhythm held down by bass and disrupted by syncopated thickets of guitar, yet fueled by rage and permeated by the howl of nothingness. There are no songs here about anyone going to heaven.

In fact, if you're looking for any signs of closure, you'll have to settle for "Human Out of Me,” one of the disc's prettiest, gentlest cuts. It's one of the few where you get any sort of picture of the man who's missing. "You were a king and knew what you were worth / A star right out of your birth / In your tarot clothes and your hound-dog nose / glory wrapped in trouble it seems," go the lyrics, and a person starts to take shape.

There's a temptation to view this album as a roman ŕ clef, to search out references and make inferences about real life events. And certainly Hammer of the Gods must have been some sort of therapy for the people involved. But it's more than that. It's meditation on death and survival, a document of grief and anger and loneliness. It's a fiercely intelligent rock album that will make sense, I think, even to people who aren't familiar with the backstory.

By Jennifer Kelly

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