MAGGOT HEART – Mercy Machine (2020)REVIEW

Clobbered from all but the most interesting angles, shocked away from any remnant of an ‘old self’, and leaving any personal sense of youth as weight on the back of prior horizon dís ulfhuguð begins biting neck flesh from the screaming spineless — Spitting blood loud enough that it’d become unforgettable war-cry, Maggot Heart is mental warfare noise upon deserving ears. To have found notoriety and willingly shrugged it, twice, for the sake of personal integrity is bound to inspire fractal attitudes ranging from confusion to admiration; Those who view life as a game won by opportunism can’t fathom anything but greedy self-destruction, stick it out and pay the difference in cash when you’ve sagged enough. Those who view life in service to the muse and to the point of zealotry can’t fathom anything less than self-sacrifice. Svensk musician Linnéa Olsson likely saved herself some matter of soul-crushing bullshit for the sake of prescience, foreseeing what bad karma might lie ahead continuing on with the brief (yet impossible to ignore) hype surrounding her function as main songwriter in The Oath. Who knows the details? I don’t give a shit personally, and had assumed it were a label-concocted ghost-writ group ’til the guitarist/vocalist landed in the whirlwind of Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures mid-turmoil and again, ducked out yet unwilling to feed into dramatics. Perhaps in all the right spaces in her youth, from playing in trad metal crew Sonic Ritual to high profile journalistic pursuits, it doesn’t appear Olsson truly found trust in her own voice ’til the sandpaper of life began to grind and there’d be no other choice but to scream. We’ve only just had glimpse, and heard flits of the artist’s genius in past works whereas her brilliant station in Maggot Heart‘s second full-length ‘Mercy Machine‘ is a statement of confident self-definition, a demonstration of true post-punk defiance and it comes with the unhinged (unsafe) feeling of earned independence.

No doubt the amount of privilege the right set of friends, and earned space among colleagues, offers a growing artist some wild advantage yet Olsson‘s time with Henrik Palm (In Solitude, Ghost) only helped push the artist toward opportunity in The Oath, a project I’d never personally seen the broad appeal of beyond the occult proto-doom/heavy rock fad being particularly intense around that time. The long-short of the point being that had the artist found success at that ‘early’ point in her career, never faced any hardship and/or diseased professional relationships along the way Maggot Heart couldn’t have developed into the ulterior something that it is today. My interest in this project admittedly stems from unending admiration for related projects from involved musicians, quickly recognizing the hand of Gottfrid Åhman (Reveal!, ex-In Solitude) as a co-writer and with the rhythmic sense of Uno Bruniusson (Black Salvation, Procession, ex-In Solitude) compounding my investigation. The most hard-fought period of Maggot Heart appears to have been the build-up towards their first EP (‘City Girls‘, 2017) a stifled set of recording sessions eventually granted a release with what’d appeared to be solid traction, giving way to a debut full-length (‘Dusk to Dusk‘, 2018) compounding a blender of heavy rock influenced post-punk music that’d been justly compared to 80’s Killing Joke while bearing a certain remnant of classic rock in Olsson‘s vocal patterns. It was subdued — Without aiming for a full-on straight-faced goth deadpan or a soul-felt attack that debut had still felt formative in performance yet… absolute class in terms of songwriting; The sonic textures engineered on that recording are still enchanting as Hell, an inspired bass-driven sensation, but ‘Mercy Machine’ is the redeemer where Olsson steps up as the main instrument, a spark-lit performance that pairs with increasing guitar violence to strong enough effect that it’d create a defining moment for the project.

However you’d slice the uneasy lines between post-punk, art rock and noise rock none of it was ever intended to create a safe space for the listener — Though Maggot Heart have increased the clang of the guitars to an insistent rush, it’d hardly feel like the attack that it is without the subversive sneer atop the ornate din created. Some admiration for Virus and surely a dollop of Voivod shines like spotlight through blood-streaked window when analyzing the lead guitar phrasing and occasionally odd-timed shifts of ‘Mercy Machine’; There is no ‘safe’ place to sit in the rotten concrete jungle depicted. The performances within may feature some punk-bop feelings, nod-along and whip-tight choruses, and whatnot but the listening experience is very much guided by a grunge-aged sensibility, where punk idols and alt-rock grime are layered beneath some manner of Swedish 70’s proto-metallic ooze. This sort of peel-ready skin is exactly the sort of vibrant, crazed, and heavily repeatable action that’d pulled me toward recent works from Reveal! with such gusto, of course what is pulled back and exposed is entirely different.

“Second Class” is a creeping, spider-bitten harangue and surely placed first to engage the listener and inform them that this record was built with maximum defiance in mind — The five minute opener is an imp-like scab ripper, an innocuous tug that turns out to be flesh-ripping as it finally relents, coyly pulling back to watch the squirming bloody mess resultant. I’m not entirely sure why “Sex Breath” recalls Bikini Kill more than L7 on my end, more Olsson‘s diction and lyrics than the riffs, it’d have been a hit on the second half of ‘Smell the Magic’ either way. This’ll be the hit and the clincher for most folks, the skank beat and trilling lead guitars are an addictive and catchy setting for lyrics that’re signature Olsson, brutal and ever unwilling to be precocious. It is all a fitting grind for the greater theme of most Maggot Heart releases, society or more specifically urban civilization viewed as an organism; Well, all sentient beings are more or less worms, tubes of digestion that must eat the right food and shit in all the right places. Cover artwork from Kristian Valbo (Obliteration, Spectral Haze) relays this bigger picture with a gruesome stare yet ‘Mercy Machine’ hones in on night life where sex, drugs, and Olsson‘s own brand of noise rock n’ roll provide fitting illustration for this seedy exploration.

The songs that’ll stick are obvious from the first spin. “Roses” can’t hardly wait a few seconds before swerving into its retro heavy rock rhythms and this’d have been out of character for the running order if it wasn’t a point of redirection, a reminder that this is an artist who’d managed a few ‘major label’ outings in the not-so distant past, unafraid of outright hooks but also willing to send ’em spiraling into doomed collapse. “Mercy Machine” is a clear standout for my own taste, returning to that riot rock gusto heard on “Sex Breath” and detailing a strung out state before the discordant banging chords of the mid-section give way to a (later) Hellacopters-esque single note piano rhythm accompaniment that’d felt excessive but in the right way. “Lost Boys” is another crawling, tension obsessed piece that’d resonated with me but I’d figure most folks will see “Senseless” as the highlight of Side B due to the somewhat more sensitive vocal timbre of its memorable chorus. The experience runs out of its throat-ripping feeling by the time it ends, seething while looking for different vocal textures and riff ideas to round out the full listen. ‘Mercy Machine’ is a bit front-loaded but not to the point that I’d ever skipped the flipside.

In reflection I admire Maggot Heart as an entity intent on self-reliance, smart enough to make decisions independently but also collaborative with a circle of folks who generally work with stellar taste. As a self-released (Rapid Eye Records is Olsson‘s imprint) second record that fills an unusual niche ‘Mercy Machine’ fills an oddball headspace, its crossing of noisome and triangularly evolved punk rock species with classic heavy rock traits makes for an abrasive listen that insists upon multiple listens by way of major hooks. It is a case of needing something and not knowing it until you’d found it, the sort of discovery that builds instant value for those who’d stumbled upon it generally hype-void. When faced with its triumphant ‘accessible yet earnest’ chunk of burning ideas from Olsson and crew, I’d feel secure giving high recommendation of ‘Mercy Machine’ with the caveat that the second half doesn’t entirely match the energy of the first.

High recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Mercy Machine
LABEL(S):Rapid Eye Records
RELEASE DATE:July 10th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:Bandcamp [Digital]
Noise Rock,
Heavy Rock

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