By: Michael Klassen
Today Is The Day | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on October 14, 2014 via Southern Lord Records
I grew up on a steady diet of thrash in the late ’80s before jumping head first into death metal and later black metal. I bought Today Is The Day‘s 1996 self-titled LP, simply because the guy at the record store told me it would fuck with my mind. I was beyond intrigued and considering his past recommendations, I raced back to my apartment, LP in hand, to experience this so called mind fucking music. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. To me, it was rocking like thrash, heavy in a different way from death metal, and as creepy as the black metal I’d recently discovered. It checked all of my proverbial boxes, while not sounding like anything that fit into any pre-established category. This band offered a unique experience, a category unto themselves.
I’ve been a steadfast follower since, but that is not to say each album has beheld me with the same awe. Sure, their two follow ups, Temple of the Morning Star and In the Eyes of God were sublime. Each one had its own unique sound that went from strength to strength, arguably some of their finest. But, after these two albums was a time Today Is The Day began a path I no longer was able to fully embrace.
2002’s Sadness Will Prevail, for the most part, was a drawn out experiment of noisey extremity and strained vocal cords. Apart from a handful of songs that make up its two-hour duration, I now spend more time on the skip button when I revisit. Similarly, the follow up Kiss the Pig, had the band embrace speed and grindcore with mixed results. Point being, when I listen to a Today Is The Day album; I want it to sound like them, not their take on Napalm Death.
That being said, 2007’s Axis of Eden marked a turning point. They returned to the Today Is The Day sound I’d been turned on by, albeit with the militant precision of technical death metal, likely a result of drummer Derek Roddy (ex-Hate Eternal, ex-Nile) joining for the album, that took some getting used to. One might argue that Today Is The Day is best when they have a drummer who is able to interpret the unhinged essence of Steve Austin’s musical vision without defining it. Which is where 2011’s Pain is a Warning shines. It is Today Is The Day stripped down to the essentials. An album showcasing their most linear and least polarizing work. It sounded like a band rejuvenated and redefining itself with rock ‘n’ roll confidence.
Which finally bring me to Today Is The Day’s 10th studio album, Animal Mother, a more varied album than Pain is a Warning, less linear, more unhinged. Drummer Jeff Lohrber matches Austin’s musical vision with percussive creativity not achieved since In the Eyes of God, different mind you, but the results are impressive. The album’s title immediately evokes, within me, the idea of the spirit animal common in the teachings of the First Nations people. It was an interesting synchronicity that while trying to decipher Animal Mother and its musical and philosophical depths, I was studying the church of Father Peyote and its ceremonies integral to the Navajo people’s cosmology. So, I decided to treat the listening of Animal Mother as one might enter into the ritual of the peyote ceremony. Peyote isn’t something to just ‘have fun’ with, it all depends on the user and their mindset. Peyote is a gift from the earth for spiritual use. And so I entered the church of Today Is The Day.
An overwhelming sense of well being came over me as I listened to Animal Mother with eyes closed, possibly under the influence of psychotropic plants and red wine. Colors were incredibly vivid, the songs strangely melodic and lava lamp before me a sparkling, volcanic mosaic.
Animal Mother guides one down a path not unlike a trip. It starts off with ‘Discipline’, an exciting track that announces its arrival with the trademark swirling, serpentine riffing that morphs from the higher register on the guitar to lower before breaking into a muted chug, accompanied with growls and screams that makes it clear, this is going to be a unique experience. Next, the almost thrash like first half ‘Sick of your Mouth’ before morphing into an almost stoner rock groove.
A dissonant, metallic jazz style of drum and guitar start off ‘Imperfection’ before it slows down into a marching stomp of rage filled, head banging metal. ‘Outlaw (the acoustic version)’ is an almost four minute Today Is The Day style ballad and a reprieve from the madness of a rising high. It’s a soothing song with whispered vocals that add a creepy, unsettling quality.
Through the middle section of the record we are crushed with the menacing lurch of ‘Godcrutch’, while the far out ‘Masada’ shifts between off kilter rhythms and the heavy blues swagger reminiscent of New Orleans heavyweights Eyehategod. That is before it all drops out and we’re left with a hypnotic chugging riff that is elevated by the effective use of flanger. The prog-ish ‘The Last Stand’ is layered with some icy synths, while the loud version of ‘Outlaw’ is even more oppressive in its amplified glory.
‘Bloodwood’, the second “ballad” embraces the narcotic vibe of a more sinister Ween that’s both catchy and unnerving. That’s before drummer Jeff Lohrber freaks out during the midway point, seeming to strive for the spirit of Cream’s drumming madman, Ginger Baker, only to rein it in right before breaking into a roaring cover of Melvins’ ‘Zodiac’ from Bullhead. Animal Mother revisits ‘Bloodwood’ to fade out, and with that the night visions also dissipate, but not the insight.
As a whole, the album is less polished, rawer than Pain is a Warning, resulting in a natural listening experience that allows the listener to feel like you’re a part of the sound environment, like it’s unfolding around you. Austin’s vocals sound invigorated, from abyss like growls and serrated screams to the almost soothing croon and eerie whispers that encompass the totality that is the Today Is The Day experience. Alien sounds and electronics rise and fall in the mix throughout the album that keeps your ears engaged in the sonic waves.
The more you seek to touch your spirit, the more you realize that you must enter some altered state of consciousness; to burst free of conventional limitations of flesh and rationality, for the purpose of enlightenment. Animal Mother creates a catalyst for reflection, that the earth is a cathedral where we quest for that spark we call insight. It is at this point when I remember why I’m drawn to Today Is The Day and return for another listen.