The illusions we fathom without clear reference, never reaching outside our immediate spheres, define us with greater frequency as the human mind loses touch with the reality of palpable experience. Crowded into smaller cages with each lengthier generation and growing neurotic from the nitrogenous fumes of purposelessness and abject convenience, today we reach the point of primitive ignorance as a virtue. Call it an endgame or the proper fate of all livestock, the anxiety of nations is visible to anyone that’d dare to stick a scalp above the storms and pollution that damn us. If true death worship is too ‘real’ for the less direct among us, occult literature is the next best foil for escapism most likely to mirror reality gently back upon the eustress’d and knowingly damned. Perhaps most clearly influenced by the most nihilistic Lovecraftian poetic beats of 80’s Rudimentary Peni and the darkest black metalpunk primitivism of the early 2000’s, New York blackened deathrock band Raspberry Bulbs continue to evolve in spurts and bolts from the blue, only ever delivering their lo-fi post-punk rock jams in extreme admixtures of black and white. ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ comes by way of an ever-twisting vision following several years in the trenches, cleaner and meaner than before but losing sight of the garbled raw black metal they’d charmed the underground with for the first half of the 2010’s. Consider it a dementia exposed within a most bristling moment of clarity, sight and throat no longer occluded and yet still in service to a dark reality.
At the risk of sounding like a used car salesman in the mid-90’s, I can almost guarantee you’re going to like ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ if you were ankles-over-shoulders for Raspberry Bulbs‘ swinging third album (‘Privacy‘, 2014) that’d really been the one to poison the well for the too-devout black metal/punk fans who’d no reference for what the band were doing, mixing a deathrock/noise-rocking post-punk clangor up to a level of violence reserved for raw black metal. Their approach really hadn’t changed beyond their debut (‘Nature Tries Again‘, 2011) where a full line-up formed beyond that release, ending solo project status by way of Bone Awl drummer He Who Crushes Teeth (Marco del Rio). The assumption is that guitarist Nick Forté, fresh off a disbanded Rorschach revival, was pivotal in the notable shift towards a more serious tautness from that point on. The paradigm jerked from sloppy swerving blackened punk muss towards some of the most violent post-punk a metalhead has access to without any prerequisite decades of record store digging; Raspberry Bulbs were clearly something special to behold when they went dark beyond 2014. For many that thread could’ve cleanly ended with ‘Privacy’, it was a legitimate peak built towards for almost a decade. So, why return six years later?
I’m all for the black metal artist picking up some punk rock along the way but the visible portion of those stylistic leanings within metal’s constricted biosphere typically features precious and self-conscious songwriters who might ‘get’ the placement an minute-long 80’s hardcore downstroke burst but, couldn’t miss the mark more frequently in seeing punk for what it actually is at its best, good rock and roll. This is where I think Raspberry Bulbs reek of authenticity beyond their bigger-but-still-underground representation. How do they do it? Well, this ain’t a black metal record in any sense and I don’t think the band’ve ever directly claimed more than extreme metal’s influence on their obscure structural sub-genre linkages. By all means, if you end up loving this record you’re going to need to start researching the ’79-’86 realms of noise rock, post-punk, and experimental hardcore punk. There is far more Laughing Hyenas, Nihilistics (and/or modern groups like Kaleidoscope or Anxiety) in the songwriting DNA Raspberry Bulbs have expelled since 2013 and that mid-paced early Ildjarn buzz hasn’t been a part of the conversation in reference to this band for quite some time. ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ picks up some of the thread ‘Privacy’ was on, interludes and all, while they appear to have put some serious time and thought into songwriting with consideration for the full listen. As a result of greater focus and honed skills this does end up being the most memorable and cohesive record from Raspberry Bulbs no matter how you might end up classifying its stylistic jib.
Though I’d never doubted it, my own limitation when ear-to-speaker with a discography like Raspberry Bulbs‘ three demo, four album run thus far is that I’ve got all the classics freshly stirring in mind but haven’t done the modern day footwork for what blackened metalpunk has been compelling folks with in droves since maybe 2011, at least nothing new. What I’m suggesting is that ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ feels ancient and new at once for its unorthodox extremity being practically unheard of and for the grayed shades of everything from UK82 (“Missing Teeth”, “They’re After Me”) to Rollins-era Black Flag (“Spitting From On High”) informing its extremist punk rock roll-out. Don’t let all the ‘punk’ flying out my fingers concern you too much, they’re still giving off the right atmosphere and Side B does have a few songs that’ll please the lo-fi black metal crowd that’ve stuck around beyond the first album. For the life of me I could not get over the sensation of firing up this album and getting beaten by the menace of opener “Spitting From On High” with its ‘My War’ sized chunk-and-harmonic buzzing amidst present and deranged vitriolic shouts. Presence is the remedy for the distant bouncing soul of ‘Privacy’, and this ends up being just one meaningful aspect of the full listen that answers the question of why they’d return to this project after such an extended period of time.
“Missing Teeth” exemplifies all of the finer qualities that Raspberry Bulbs have retained through their journey thus far while driving forward with an early UK Subs swagger that swerves towards Brainbombs-esque psychosis a few times before resolution. Throw in a solid bass guitar tone and I’m frothing under the catchy-but-destructive sensation that ‘Before the Age of Mirrors’ inspires throughout its duration. I stuck with this record for many, many spins of its ~40 minute duration and only ever found it had improved in value by way of ear-worming dark punk rhythms and skin shredding production values. The interludes are basically seamless despite their often experimental modus, emphasizing the analog recording methodology that helps Raspberry Bulbs sound early 80’s ancient and yet forward-thinking at once. The transition provided by “Interlude III” leading into the rabies-mouthed ‘Raw Power’ crawl of “Ultra Vires” speaks best to this point. If you’ve been entirely lost beyond mentions of Ildjarn and Bone Awl thus far maybe approach with caution if there is no love of the classic punk, hardcore, and noise rock that glues Raspberry Bulbs together on this latest album. For the initiated and sprawling metalpunk mind, this one deserves a very high recommendation.
Very high recommendation. 4.25/5.0
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