PICK OF THE WEEK: Northless mix noise, melody into doom sound on ‘Last Bastion of Cowardice’

There are consequences to all evil actions, even if that comeuppance takes a little while to sink in its teeth. You can only get away with being terrible and dishonorable for so long before that disease works its way into your life and begins to eat away at who you are. You can try to avoid it or reverse your course of action, but you know your day is coming.

That’s a major theme of “Last Bastion of Cowardice,” the monster new record from Milwaukee-based sludge pounders Northless. To call this band heavy is almost an insult. No shit they’re heavy. They’ve been that way from the start, and over the course of their first two full-length records and several smaller releases, the band has made sonic punishment and destruction part of their DNA. On this new album, they unfurl a record-long story for the first time, a 10-track, hour-long opus that examines a protagonist who can’t overcome the darkness that has been life. There are elements of revenge and sorrow, and eventually the redemption the person was seeking disappears. That’s a sad story, but it’s one that ultimately is human and realistic, something that actually happens in real life, movies be damned. The band—vocalist/guitarist Erik Stenglein, guitarist Nicholas Elert, bassist Jerry Hauppa, and drummer John Gleisner—also adds new wrinkles to their style, with more melody, different shades of darkness, and an expanded style that makes them more well-rounded and heavier. This record is so massive it’s taking four labels to handle it, so please find your way to the hilarious amount of links at the end of the story.

“The Origin of Flames” starts the record with a doomy smudge before working into terrain that borders on hardcore. Black metal-style melodies then barrel in, while the track remains burly and muscular, bleeding off at the end. “Godsend” has devastating playing and massive torment that run headlong into thick melodies. Singing slips behind the crushing growls, while the guitars bleed emotion, and the song comes to a tumultuous end. “The Devil in Exile” is faster, with shrieky vocals and a dinosaur stomp. The pace chugs along as the song simmers in doom fires, and clean group vocals arrive, feeling Viking-like. The song trudges on in a fury, leading the way toward “Slave to a Scorched Earth,” the shortest cut on here, and more of an interlude. Drone chants and group singing swell, even letting in some harmony, and that pushes right into “Their Blood Was Always Mine” that kicks off with downright swaggering guitar work. The growls are grisly, as fresh colors blast into the scene, and the final moments are savage and sinewy, yet oddly vulnerable.

“Never Turn Your Back on the Dead” starts clean, though noise buzzes, and then we’re full bore into anguish and power. Strange chanting becomes a part of the picture, chilling the flesh, while the band delves into some unexpected weirdness coupled with machine-strength intensity. “Extinction Voices” changes up the scene, going more in the noise rock route and adding a new element to the band’s game. The guitars lay waste, while the drums topple buildings, while Stenglein howls, “All my best years, sold to the highest bidder,” while the song dissolves into disorientation. The title track follows, and it soars through spacious atmosphere before bursting open and starting its assault. Brawny doom and lumbering singing unite, while massive clouds move in, and the guitars burn off. The back end is somber at first, but then the hammers are dropped, leaving everything buried in a cloud of dust. “Our Place in Dirt” drubs and leaves you dizzy, while the singing is deeper in spots, desperate and in pain at others. There’s a nice psyche edge to the song that contains monstrous singing mixed with shrieks and guitar work that sounds like it worships at the altar of Kim Thayil. Closer “Rotten Days” is the longest cut, ripping over 9:01 and letting coldness encapsulate the room. The singing haunts and the pace stings before they tear through the heart and begin smashing barriers. Emotions caterwaul here in every element, while guitars mix with gothic pianos, and the track comes to a gut-wrenching finish.

Northless’ might never has been questioned, and they unload like never before on “Last Bastion of Cowardice.” The more I listened to this album, the more it worked its way into my blood, and that’s simply from a musical standpoint. When you consider the story and the immense tragedy contained within, it’s enough to give you both a swollen face and a serious reality check.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/northlessmke/

To buy the album, go here (vinyl): https://gileadmedia.bandcamp.com/album/last-bastion-of-cowardice

Or here (vinyl): http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/releases/

Or here (cassette):  http://errorrecords.storenvy.com/

Or here (CD): http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://gileadmedia.net

And here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/

And here: http://initrecords.corecommerce.com/

And here: http://www.initrecords.net/