ILS – Curse (2020)REVIEW

The anguished, guilt-wracked absurdist who’d insist existence is chaotic, purposeless morass digs his teeth into flesh — The bitter iron-scented waves of the self-cannibal’s fingertips signify a satisfying, cleansing chew. Ardent notions, deleterious interactions, and anxietous consumption just never triangulated into whatever genuine self’d been intended, right? All manner of private idealism amounts to lies told through transparent toothy grinning, every concrete-staining matter of public injustice provides an additional hammer swing applied when the empath finally snaps. The weapon worth reaching for here is the cracked brain, the “I’ve had enough of your daily menace” spill over the brim, the violence that’d break all surface tension with gut-grabbing, life-draining, spilling down. Isolation, poisonous corporate-ruled governance, deteriorating environs, and a chilling all-time low for valuation of human life… A man could deteriorate under conditions such as these, and when he does the hope is that art keeps those chewed-up fingers busy and the gun cabinet locked. ‘Curse’ is the startling hiss as all pressure releases, the blood-gush from biting your lip rather than stoking the most fiery ignorant among us. Or, in more direct terms, it is the impressive full-length debut from Portland, Oregon-based noise rock/post-hardcore quartet ILS who’re more incensed than ever as they reach this key milestone.

Formed whenever (recent-ish) by way of current and/or former members of whomever (Black Elk, Clarity Process, and with a few members involved in the technical side Red Fang) these ILS fellows have a point of view that is easily recognized but senseless to peg too deep within any category. There are plenty of high-brained 90’s noise rock influenced riff-swingers out there in the wilds if you dig hard enough through Bandcamp yet, a much smaller (highly noxious, schizo-phonic) sect of off-kilter extreme rock bands exist in experimental states of undress when pushing deeper. These sorts aren’t often songwriters but hit upon cutting edge tonal ideas and machined textural insanity. The outlier in between cut-edge sonic excess and prompt, exuberantly ‘out of body-high on expensive medical marijuana’ songwriting consists of basically just ILS, lately. If you took my recommendation of their first EP (‘Pain Don’t Hurt‘, 2018) a couple of years ago and you loved it, you already know whats up, this is a professional rendering of that core modus; Those five introductory songs are tweaked for structurally-bound intensity, featuring both refined performance and strikingly achieved n’ chic dirt n’ metal production values (via Stephen Hawkes, whom you’ll recognize from Gaytheist‘s most recent gig) as they accompany five more songs on this incredibly well-met LP. What has changed in a couple years time? The only major shift comes from swapping in new bassist Adam Pike (Toadhouse Recording, White Orange), his tone being a bit sharper and demanding in the mix.

“Bad Parts” sets us in and SUV that seats about four as it kicks into gear, driving up an old logging road with a body they’re all eager to ditch. The brief and stinging howler Tom Glose‘s vocals initially bearing a defiant and surreal narrative with the pounce of Child Bite‘s recent stuff before bloody-throated rasps set a gnarly, wicked tone. Sludge rock starts to feel like the right niche as things twitch and shudder forth, where I’d still point (vaguely) toward the heavy teeter-totterin’ clangor of Unsane and the space-drippin’ newer era of Quicksand probably being the most approachable parameters in sight — Throw in the inventive songwriting of ‘Whales and Leeches’-era Red Fang and by the time the sludge-blackened, dissonant post-hardcore romp of “Don’t Hurt Me” (and “No Luck”, too) finishes wringing out ILS have established their own sound, one that hits a particularly professional standard that bears classic and ‘fresh’ traits with broad appeal between nostalgic aggro-rock, noise rock, and popular sludge rock spheres. Though he keeps cranked it up to eleven throughout, “Whitemeat” is probably where Glose‘s lyrics steer the album towards a most clear point of shaking finger at our age of discordance and we indisputable culprit(s). For my taste, all the best stuff happens in the backseat as Side B bears substantive build-up toward some of the most choice songs from the EP on the second half; The groovin’ swing n’ scream of “Northstar” is of particular note I’d say for the sake of embodying all of the characteristics that make ILS a unique and ultimately special act from the wild and subversive narrative voice to the infectious rhythmic movement, idiosyncratic but knowable and lovably odd.

“Casket Race” almost feels like it’d been written specifically to follow “Northstar”, the transition between tracks is seamless and characteristic of an album that always has a sort of “Yes, and…” mindset, ready with more ideas that’re relevant to the holistic ‘Curse’ experience by way of fluid, continuous motion. Modern noise rock albums often feel like iterative, exhaustive rants that introduce variety for the sake of lacking conception whereas ILS manage to avoid sameness or any sense of dragging motion within this half hour squeeze of (what’d feel like) a full 45 minutes worth of ideas. As the spaced-out, metallic post-hardcore trot of “For the Shame I Bring” screams itself off the stage I’d always felt entirely ready for another full listen, not only because ‘Curse’ is fairly succinct but the ride of the album was hard to put down and catchy as Hell in a very ‘wrong’ way. What’d start as a tormented, dark and personal album meant to deal with the needling world of today instead became a much more brave and emboldened experience in my mind, a set of songs that surely “let it all out” but never give in to the sensation that that’d be an odd thing to do. ‘Curse’ is a natural reaction to the horror of existence, a set of songs expressing itself in a way that’d had me finding kinship in its illustrious realization. No doubt it’ll be too accessible for some and too much of a dark niche for others but I love that “hurts so good” point on this particular Venn diagram, it suits ’em well and hit the right spot for my own taste. A very high recommendation for this one, and a day one vinyl pre-order on my part.

Very high recommendation.

Rating: 9 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Self-Released [NA],
Pogo Records [EU]
RELEASE DATE:July 4th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital]
GENRES:Noise Rock,
Heckin’ Freak Rock,

<strong>Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:</strong>

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.