Before Ever After is the same Blind Idiot God as before, except now in glorious high definition, says MacDara Conroy
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The first thing that will hit you upon playing the new Blind Idiot God album, their first record in 23 years and itself more than a decade in the making, is the volume. Not necessarily the loudness, though they’ve always been a band that benefit from being turned up to 11, but the sheer space-filling wholeness of it all. Andy Hawkins might be the only remaining member of the St Louis-via-Brooklyn trio that blasted off with a truly bar-raising self-titled debut for SST in 1987, but his rich, diffusive guitar tone alone feels like it can carry all the weight and pressure that he, bassist Gabe Katz and drummer Ted Epstein created when they whipped hardcore, metal, dub and even 20th-century classical influences into a whirling dervish of sound, like what might happen if you locked King Crimson in a studio with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry or something.
The second thing you might notice is that Hawkins’ guitar isn’t even the focal point of ‘Twenty Four Hour Dawn’, the colossal nine-minute track that opens ‘comeback’ album Before Ever After (they’ve been back, as a studio and part-time band, since 2001; it just took them this long to put the album together). Rather it’s the deft, agile percussion of Tim Wyskida, formerly the backbone of bleak, glacially slow doom outfit Khanate, that’s strongly foregrounded. The Tim Wyskida heard here is an entirely different proposition, playing with the same confidence – you can’t hide your mistakes when you’re playing with seconds between hits – but diametrically opposed in his dynamics, with busy rolls and fills between the snare’s snap and crunch, the rumble of toms and kick-drum matching the low-end frequencies of Gabe Katz (who withdrew from the band in 2012 due to hearing issues and tendonitis, but not before laying down years’ worth of bass tracks). It’s almost like a hat tip to Damon Ché of drummer-led ensemble Don Caballero, which also happened to be one of the bigger instrumental rock trios to emerge in BIG’s absence after 1992’s Cyclotron.
Not that there’s ever been a suitable replacement for Blind Idiot God. No one else blends genres quite like they do; no one else, apart from maybe Bad Brains, would have the chutzpah to merge seamlessly from hardcore to dub and as they did on their three previous long-players and as they do again here, sliding into the head-bopping jam of ‘High and Mighty’ that itself gives way to the crushing ‘Antiquity’, which teeters like a rollercoaster from a heavier-than-thou see-saw riff into quick bursts of noise-laden speed. If it brings to mind older tracks like ‘Subterranean Flight’ from their debut, or ‘Rollercoaster’ from 1989’s Undertow, that’s no bad thing: Before Ever After is the same Blind Idiot God as before, except now in glorious high definition, Bill Laswell at the desk capturing every detail even bolder and brighter than his crystalline job on Cyclotron two decades ago.
Those details are everything. Wyskida and Katz swing out in the loose jam-room intro to ‘Earthmover’, which evolves into a slow-burning stoner rock number, or at least their approximation of stoner rock as transmuted through Hawkins’ trademark tone and note-bending. ‘Night Driver’ is another dub excursion, Katz locking down a reverb-dripping groove for Wyskida to follow with his echo-rich percussion bouncing in step, with Hawkins layering on textures and fragments of melodies as if they were paint on canvas. That jam-room feel returns in the lurching ‘Wheels Of Progress’, stop-start rhythms and riffs taking their time to coalesce into lock-step locomotion, then breaking down back into the song’s constituent parts, making space for an extended picked-riff solo by Hawkins that’s mesmerising in its clean-tone simplicity.
‘Ramshackle’ relieves some of the elastic tension with its chipper dub to end the first half of this expansive double LP. Yes, there’s still more to come – 76 minutes of music all together – and really it’s a record that’s best taken in separate sittings, as the size and density of it all is positively exhausting to the ears, and the head. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss the nuances within the walls of sound BIG build on the rumbling, tumbling ‘Barrage’, the factory-machine pummel of ‘Under The Weight’ and concrète-esque grinds and howls on ‘Voice Of The Structure’, the most experimental track of this set. You wouldn’t want to be numb, either, to the hypnotic riff repetition of ‘Stung’ and syncopated funk-dub hybrid ‘Fub’, nor ‘Shutdown’ with its album-closing chill-out vibes.
In any other situation I might complain that it was too much, that a little editing wouldn’t have gone amiss. But much like with latter-day Swans (an ironic comparison to make, knowing that Hawkins used to live with Michael Gira in Martin Bisi’s Gowanus studio, and reportedly never cared for his roommate’s band), the songs themselves are the thing, even if the record as a whole is a lot to swallow. It’s up to the listener how many of these timeless space jams you want to take in one go, or even in what order to take them (the LP version’s track order is quite different to the CD/digital release). Besides, it’s surely looking a gift horse in the mouth to gripe that Hawkins and company have given us too much. We should be grateful that they’ve given us anything at all, never mind that it’s as incredible as it is.