Review Summary: BLEED IT OUT!
The cover art of Totem
, the third album from blistering sonic titans White Suns, features a gravely face protruding an ectoplasm substance from its mouth whilst obscured within a darkened canvas. The term ectoplasm was coined by French physiologist Charles Richet to attribute a substance or spiritual energy that is “exteriorized” by physical mediums. This material is said to be excreted as a gauze-like substance when in a trance state, is associated with the formation of spirits, and can only exist within dark environments. This phenomena, whether it’s real or merely speculation, is central to understanding the themes behind Totem
’s fiery sonic whirlwind of catastrophic noise manipulations, shattering guitar play, and demolishing percussive stomp.
Immediately alienating any sense of calm or ease you may have entering Totem
is the feral chaos of ‘Priest In The Laboratory’, simultaneously juggling (seemingly) improvised and structured elements into a phantasm of darkness, anxiety, and lawlessness. The increasingly stripped down ‘Prostate’ plays upon the physical textures of instruments, plucking harshly tightened strings that amount to frigid and thorny accents against stretched metals and pulsing static drones. Furthermore the eccentric and unremorseful ‘Disjecta Membra’ bursts a plethora of disjointed guitar particles and distant percussive scraps that rely on more formative noise techniques illustrated by the likes of Kevin Drumm, Incapacitants, and Prurient, rather than the noise rock leanings of Swans, Drunkdriver, and Air Conditioning that forms the basis of their sound. However the rhythmic stomping of ‘Cathexis’ finds White Suns back in the structured hell gaze of the latter as a thick wall of violent noise scorches the building mix, before it breaks down and lets all hell loose by way of hyper-grinding percussive wailing and demonically tuned guitar vigor.
Collecting itself on bruised knees after the beat down is the paranoid haunt of ‘Fossil Record’, a five minute cool down of trance endusing drones and scattered, knock-out nourishing disarray. It’s a direct response to the unsettling chaos before it, lethargically preparing you for Totem
’s foreboding centerpiece. ‘Clairvoyant’ initiates on a few drum kicks before blowing out the speakers with an onslaught of deathly guitar manipulations and galloping drum swings. Before long the percussion halts and only a sneering, psychotic guitar grin stares back at you. The grin fades to black as ‘Clairvoyant’ survives on a bleak drone that fades in and out before it’s stabbed by vocalist Kevin Barry’s haunting poetry. “MY GOD’S FACE IS MADE OF MIRRORS. MY GOD’S FACE LOOKS LIKE MY FATHERS” Barry hollers amidst the darkness, alluding to the obscurities and illusions of faith and religion, while connecting that very ambiguity and uncertainty of feelings towards his father. It’s a poignant and touching sentiment within all of Totem
’s chaos and destruction, and it’s a message that’s increasingly manifested as the track transforms into a whirling death warp of crashing symbols and guitar decay. In its climatic moments Barry repeatedly screams “BLEED IT OUT”, encouraging the listener to find the revealing and repressed truths within the chaos and destruction of their own lives.
Amidst all the fury of Totem
, the themes of anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness can be related back to its mystical ectoplasm exhaling cover. Throughout the record that ectoplasm “substance” comes in the form of annihilating and dismembered guitar fragments coiled together to form primal expressions of melody while its “spiritual energy” exudes from the poetic orifice of vocalist Kevin Barry’s continually shifting dynamic of spoken word to rampaging lyrical screams. These forces also act as the very physical mediums by which the ectoplasm is extracted, in which White Suns’ blistering and anarchic approach to music making is the extraction of truth amongst the turbulence, uncertainty, and sadness of daily life. There’s a moment that manages to transcend Barry’s humanizing voice throughout Totem
, and it happens within the records final moments. It’s here where the anarchy and discord of the record dissolves into a field recording of wind forcefully smacking a microphone, as if to directly connect the sonic abhorrence heard throughout to something as every day and common as a gust of air; suggesting that beneath all of the layers of inhumanity and horror inside Totem
there remains something surprisingly human for us to lose ourselves in.