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Noxagt - Turning It Down Since 2001

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Artist: Noxagt

Album: Turning It Down Since 2001

Label: Load

Review date: Jun. 13, 2003

Steady Metal

Norwegian trio Noxagt play slow-burn metal stripped to its essential elements: no vocals, no solos, just lurching riffs and pounding rhythms, a precision machine on a hot rail to hell. The obvious comparison, given the Load Records connection, is to heavy-rock deconstructionists like Lightning Bolt, but I think that's a red herring. The stateside duo are fast and frantic where Noxagt are methodical; Lightning Bolt and their imitators explode; Noxagt are a battering ram. Same result, different methods.

No volume shifts, for instance. Quiet, quiet, LOUD gets results (“The Faire Folk” on Lightning Bolt's Ride The Skies), but starting loud, staying loud and still holding interest takes skill. The tension and release on Turning It Down Since 2001 come from the shifts in tone, subtle or sudden; close listening reveals the careful attention paid to the interaction, moment by moment, of drums, bass and viola.

Viola? Yes. Nils Erga draws an impressive range of sounds from his instrument, playing heaving riffs in lockstep with Kjetil Brandsdal's basslines or hovering above them in an unsettling cloud of atonal distortion. It's tempting to dwell on this at length – the use of viola in rock generally being limited to polite accompaniment on someone's Pet Sounds wannabe – but equally impressive is how natural it sounds in the context of Noxagt's music, filling up the treble space normally occupied by guitar. Outside of a few vaguely folk-sounding passages, nothing Erga does suggests that the viola isn't a common rock instrument. Some bands don't have one?

Brandsdal's bass is the melodic center of the band. Although he has released numerous cassettes and two LPs of experimental improvisation, on Turning It Down Brandsdal cleaves firmly to the metal idiom, playing ominous minor-key riffs in high Sabbath style. Drummer Jan Kyvik keeps a steady, demanding tempo, heavy with cymbals, occasionally bursting into sprinting fills. He reminds me of Shellac's Todd Trainer; during “Mek It Burn,” the album's opening track, his snare drum erupts into a monorhythmic, unaccented beat, a trick Trainer used in Terraform's "House Full Of Garbage". The sound hooked me there and it hooks me here, the inexplicably terrifying crack of the snare demanding attention as the bass and viola continue their threatening movement. Noxagt, like Shellac, invert the power-trio aesthetic: they reject flashy virtuosity and amplify their intensity with restraint.

On close examination, the ominous, looming figure on the album cover is revealed as a man in a bathtub wearing a soapsud afro. The mysterious pattern in the CD booklet is a Magic Eye stereogram - you know, like in grade school; I think it just says "Noxagt". Non sequiturs. Perhaps this is Noxagt's way of distancing themselves from the scene Norway’s metalhead pretensions that at their worst spill over into real-life violence. But Noxagt have made an exceptional record of metal as it was meant to be: metal without technics or theatrics, metal shorn of everything except for that singular, inimitable, brutally heavy sound.

By Nicholas Webb

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