Chepang
Swatta


4.3
superb

Review

by JohnnyoftheWell STAFF
July 27th, 2023 | 128 replies


Release Date: 07/07/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: How not to review metal (also, AOTY)

If I see one more person recycle the same introduction about how every artist of X genre has at some point stood at the crossroads between air-quotes innovation and sticking-to-the-formula, I am going to sweat scatole until you all give up using laborious justifications of the latter as a piteously thin smokescreen for your own derivative writing. Google false dichotomy right now this fucking minute. Today we are not going any further into why great bands still sound great when they play the tropes, and neither are we going to humour an internet-flavoured originality fetish so pervasive that the very fundamentals most reasonable people actually listen to music for now need a sodding redemption arc.

What we are going to talk about is how disproportionally this facile perspective is levelled against homogenous genres (take grindcore) where critics have a habit of fawning over even the slightest perceived innovation (take the procedural stylistic hopscotch that carried Wormrot's pastiche-heavy Hiss last year), railing 'supportively' against perceived style-wide drawbacks as though good ol' not-like-the-other-girls–isms are somehow preferable to, y'know, engaging with grind on its own endearingly unyielding terms.

This is why I very rarely trust anyone who gets on their high horse about grind and then tries to sell me a record under the guise of innovation. Neither should you.

…and having said all that, I'm going to have to drop many, many horses' worth of loftiness to introduce this fucking band. They are Chepang, a largely Nepali grindcore collective based in New York, and as of this month they are quite conceivably the most innovative act in the genre today. I'm honour-bound to make that statement because shit-fucking-damn does their new album Swatta innovate - it takes the grindcore staples, plays them in a jagged, consonant maelstrom, stretches them into (hand on heart) some of their most ambitious shapes to date, shatters them into a hundred pieces and outsources them to a dizzying range of outside talents, and then affords it the world's filthiest remix for good measure. This plays out over a runtime of almost 50 minutes, a four-course meal by grind standards - and, well, yes, actually precisely that. Chepang devote each quarter of this record to a separate direction, delving into each so thoroughly that it could easily have warranted a standalone release. Predictably enough, this is a proper pain in the neck for any would-be reviewer and their beleaguered readerbase - four analyses for the price of one? Shut up. In we go:

Shock of all horrors, we begin with Side A, which will likely be the most familiar territory for returning Chepang fans, with its blitzquick pacing, punkish chord barrages, and warped approach to melody. These tracks are high-octane scorchers that get in, make their mark, and get out as soon as their point is made - just one exceeds the two-minute mark. They're certainly not boilerplate - get you a piece of "Akanchya"'s ethereal backend, or the slick synth cushion that cuts off "Avismarinaya", both smartly gauged flourishes that seamlessly complement the prevailing firestorm at hand - but by and large this side is a mercilessly proficient showcase of GridLink-esque melodic grind at its most coherent and digestible (GridLink guitarist Takafumi Matsubara in fact pops up to steal the show on the highlight "Anumati"). Familiar thrills with a fresh twist, then.

Things kick up a gear on side B, a set of longer compositions that shows the album's creative vision at its zenith and lays down its most substantive highlights. It kicks off with one of the most drastic stylistic departures by way of "Bid", a digital hardcore skit that abruptly gives way to an off-kilter, uh, grind-jam dominated by the same howling saxophones we heard and loved on 2020's Chatta (hats off to Patrick Shiroishi, who takes up the reed on this one). Engaging stuff, but this side is chiefly defined by the two-part album climax of "Ba" and "Na". These tracks are perhaps the most revealing glimpse to date of Chepang's full potential. The former is their "Towering Flesh", a momentous centrepiece that waxes fractious, ominous, and, eventually, berserk (that sax!) in a six-minute tour de force for the ages; the latter is the most achingly suspenseful and harrowingly beautiful piece I've heard from a grind band since An Isle Ate Her's "Improcalypse", its disarming moments of harmony and clangorous chords painting a time-stopping portrait of desperation over flailing rhythms. These tracks' mangled dissonance and punishing tempos epitomise everything positive that might be said for grind's basic vocabulary, while their peaks make mincemeat of its alleged lack of structural ambition. 'Epic' is not a misplaced word.

Side C is just fucking savage. On one hand it tones tracks lengths back down and pacing firmly up to offer a brutish converse to side A's melodic flourish, while on the other it opens the door to a slew of features, offering a gleefully discontinuous set of left-turns that thrives on their every sharp edge. Each track features a guest guitarist and drummer (see the Bandcamp for a full list, but phwoar boy is it an exciting cocktail of big names and unknowns); the results range from a Colin Marston-penned atmospheric horror house ("JC"), to a virulent onslaught that most deathgrind bands only dream of courtesy of a drum feature from - again - GridLink's Bryan Fajardo ("BP"), to a vintage barnstormer both kindred to and worthy of heyday Pig Destroyer ("JGR"). This side is the nearest the album's stylistic reach gets to outright erratic, and its relentless intensity rendered it by far the hardest to latch onto over my initial listens. It is certainly the easiest to pick holes in - much as it hardly overstays its welcome, the notes-per-minute showcase that both Takafumi Matsubara and Krallice's Mick Barr lay down on "DMT" is perhaps the closest the album gets to superfluous - but it sees off its scattergun rampage through sheer forcefulness and makes for some of the most entertaining thrills on the record. Dense stuff, but well worth some extra attention.

If side C is bold, then side D is full-tilt batshit. This is the only point where Swatta's experimentalism threatens to ransack the proverbial apple cart, largely a result of its methodology. My understanding is that Chepang essentially force-fed the first three sides into an AI waveform synthesiser and culled the best seven minutes over five tracks. Uh-huh. The fruit of this is an anti-finale that sees the album's very medium start to disintegrate at the seams, accidentally-on-purpose reinventing noisecore from the stuff of panic attacks to that of unadulterated stroke fuel. Nice. This side says more with shock value than anything else and is the only section that doesn't invite standalone listening, but it does pull its weight as an album conclusion. As closing strategies go, the self-inflicted burnout is particularly difficult to see through, as the band in question risks going so far overboard that they retroactively destabilise the whole album structure (as Naked City diced with on both Grand Guignol and Radio), overstating self-sabotage to the point of kitsch (Chat Pile's "grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg" still rings in my ears), or indulging in a sound heard better in small doses (see Chepang's own Chatta). Swatta side D comes within a hair's breadth of all of these, but it scrapes through with its relatively undemanding runtime and the level of chutzpah already prominent across the album trajectory. It makes its mark with sheer audacity, but sticks the landing as a well-earned erosion of the forms, by which I mean

everything explodes into fuck

and an album is over.

And there we are - if the magnitude and multiplicity of the album's say-it-with-me-one-last-bitching-time innovations are anything less than aggressively self-apparent by now, then attempting to parse any further through this piece is probably not for you. Make the mistake of conceptualising grind as an ongoing evolution of ideas, and it is probably a genre milestone - but so what? Where's the value behind the novelty, the album that emerges from four EPs' worth of successive chaos?

Well.

Ignoring for a moment the perfect parabola mapped out by sides A thru D in their respective phases of icebreak/apex/disintegr/ation, you'll be hard-pressed to find another record as equal parts occupied with transcending the basics as it is with simultaneously nailing them at every turn. Grindcore is the tropes - they are fast, nasty and unaccommodating, and you either like them or you scram. If you need or want Chepang to be 'more' than grind, odds are they'll scratch that itch, but for me they lay down everything I've always wanted from the genre scale- and scope-wise while typifying everything I've always loved about it: the adrenaline written into its every act of abrasion, the punkish snot that gives its friction-burn such zeal, the screwball bombast that underpins its blur-of-noise, the way its breakneck speed downright prohibits all but the most robust structural developments or melodic phrasings.

Ironically, per their 2018 interview with Decibel, they claim that they don't believe at all in upholding grind's traditional form and would even place the majority of their sound outside of it. It's fascinating how much of its appeal they conserve, but in keeping with their nomadic/immigrant inspirations, they make it their mission to erode genre boundaries to the point that the strain of any stylistic import/export is all but invisible. If any further proof of that is necessary, consider that fifty minutes of grind would typically demand the same investment of attention as, well, two hours of normal music. In Chepang's hands, the unwieldy runtime gives way to a relentless series of thrills and one of the essential records of the year.




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user ratings (91)
3.6
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2023


60521 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

It is here there is finally a proper AOTY we are saved

Thank you x1000 to everyone who helped proof and salvage this punishing fucking review I am going to bathe now

Everyone else don't call me (unless you feel @'d by either of the opening paragraphs, in which case I tutor English on weekends) lfg

calmrose
July 27th 2023


6828 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

yeet

mechamagica
July 27th 2023


634 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

wooooo yea review of the year gonna read it now

SteakByrnes
July 27th 2023


29836 Comments


segueway

mechamagica
July 27th 2023


634 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

factually the best review I've read this year and full of great segueways

check chepang guys

Pikazilla
July 27th 2023


29799 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

what's a swatta

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2023


60521 Comments

Album Rating: 4.3

thank you mechafriend and I will swat_u, thunderrat boi

DadKungFu
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2023


4877 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

First para rankles me no end for many reasons but this review and album-so-far rip face so all's well

mechamagica
July 27th 2023


634 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

first paragraph is the best one

MeatSalad
July 27th 2023


18599 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Album seems interesting, will check

Kompys2000
Emeritus
July 27th 2023


9467 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Second listen is sounding niiiiice, although side D which I was dozing off p hard during last time is lots of fun on paper but sort of unlistenable in practice? 7 mins is not that long at all but like you said, grindcore kinda taxes the ears at a different rate



But yeah first half of this especially stomps face, buddy said the more soundscape-y parts reminded him of Oathbreaker

Purpl3Spartan
July 27th 2023


8628 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

great band ya

Flugmorph
July 27th 2023


34315 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yo this album goes

Demon of the Fall
July 27th 2023


33917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I need to spend more (quality) time with this but it do be slappin' hard thus far



did anyone else spot a small segment that is potentially in homage to 'Using Sickness As A Hero'?... I'll try and properly pinpoint it / confirm next time

dedex
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2023


12788 Comments

Album Rating: 3.9 | Sound Off

currently reading while listening (am on side B so still gotta read/jam the other half) but this is a banging review, a banging record, and fuck yes "NA" is magnificent

MoM
July 27th 2023


5994 Comments


I like this, but the vocals sound like the guy who owns city wok, the Chinese food place in South Park

Demon of the Fall
July 27th 2023


33917 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

side B is my fave thus far yeah, Bid and NA are fire

mechamagica
July 27th 2023


634 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Ba

DePlazz
July 27th 2023


4492 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This goes freakin hard, thanks for the heads up

AsleepInTheBack
Staff Reviewer
July 27th 2023


10216 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Side C probs my favourite, except for the obvs high points of side B. Side D outstays welcome for me but v cool idea. Moderate slapper.



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