Review Summary: A monolithic mash-up of sludge metal and noise rock that provides a relentlessly bleak soundtrack for a desolate urban landscape.
Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City has an unsavoury reputation to say the least. Originating as a Chinese military fort, the place converted into an enclosed crime-ridden community mostly ruled by the Triad syndicate. Due to its fortified structure, it had been devoid of sunlight or any sort of intervention until the Hong Kong government decided to demolish the place and transform it into a public park in the 1990s. San Francisco-based noise rock foursome of the same name has found an inspiration in the dystopian stories about this god-forsaken place and it so happens that their powerful, if grimy sludge metal provides an ideal soundtrack for a desolate urban landscape.
Similarly to the act's debut full length released three years ago, Container Ships
revolves around an abrasively heavy sound propelled by constantly throbbing bass lines, combative drum fills and dissonant guitars that oscillate between sounding clean and ominous. The atmosphere of mounting paranoia feels complete with Scott Evans’ tortured wail that's totally in line with overpoweringly bleak lyrics. Most of the time he sounds like someone who's on the verge of losing his sanity, yet the controlled intensity he displays results in a plethora of gut-wrenching moments throughout the record.
Even though this approach to sonic assault bears close resemblance to a gritty brand of noise rock invented by the formidable Unsane, Kowloon Walled City distinguish themselves by a muddier guitar tone and a nuanced use of sinister atmosphere, which make for a more metallic sound. The opener “The Pressure Keeps Me Alive” elusively builds with its unsettling guitar play only to rapidly burst into a huge wall of sound built upon a swinging groove. Crushing “50s Dad” seems more unapologetic culminating in cacophonous soloing and Evans yelling “bad days come again after all,” whereas a palpable alternative rock vibe cuts through the muscular riffs of “Beef Cattle.” Elsewhere, driving “Wrong Side Of History” is ingrained in post-hardcore of 1990s making the outfit's subtle sense of melody especially noticeable.
Just as the name of the band, the cover of Container Ships
is nothing short of relevant to understanding the quartet's oppressive blend of sludge metal and noise rock. A dilapidated vessel broken in shallow water is a symbol of dread and decay, and Kowloon Walled City are remarkably efficient at making this vision frighteningly real. In its lean 35-minute running time, this album is both relentlessly bleak in its scope and surprisingly alluring.