I'm the Devil And I'm OK by Split CraniumRelease date: May 25, 2018
Label: Ipecac Recordings
The cover of I’m The Devil and I’m Ok is a familiar American road sign, the usual STOP substituted for OK. Not GO, just OK. I guess that’s how it is if you’re riding with the devil. Are we waiting at that legendary crossroads? Are you coming? If you’re getting in, hold on tight for a raging half hour of ferocious hardcore.
A long ways back down the road, long before calling your band Isis was in any way controversial or likely to cause you the endless grief it might today, Aaron Turner had a band of that name. Readers of Echoes and Dust are more likely to be familiar with their efforts than most I would imagine. On their final European tour Isis were supported by Finland’s genre melting lords of rock Circle and somewhere along the way the early nagging migraine of Split Cranium began. It wasn’t all that long before Jussi Lehtisalo (Circle) and Turner bashed out a self-titled debut of d-beat ragers that worshipped at the feet of Scandi hardcore legends Anti Cimex. Then, being two of the hardest working men in underground rock, they went off on their way attending to their other many projects.
That was six years ago, now Split Cranium return with a second album that proves it was more than a one off dalliance. Not that they ever seemed guilty of that but there’s always a suspicion when experimental, accomplished artists go ‘back-to basics’ struggling to get into the battered, ill fitting jeans of their youth again. It can be unflattering if not outright embarrassing. There’s a danger of underestimating or somehow patronising the beloved sources. While there’s something quite sweet about seeing James Hetfield grin and babble about the guitar he had made out of Metallica’s old practice space, there’s also tragedy in the idea of it as a holy relic, a sacramental repository of some elemental thrash energy that now eludes him. Can the guitar made from the one true cross reinvigorate his playing? Or will his fingers spasm and freeze, unworthy of its power? Hanging low around his neck like the weight of history, a preposterous rock star indulgence, it doesn’t connect him back to the garage but only illuminates the great yawning chasm between then and now.
I’m happy to say there’s none of that sort of nonsense here. In trying to make a less straightforward record than the first they successfully push and pull the various punk and metal elements of the sound in and out of focus without taking their foot off the accelerator. The one real sonic innovation here comes courtesy of Faith Colaccia, who appeared only briefly on that debut. A bandmate of Turner in the ghostly and atmospheric Mammifer, Colaccia brings the spectral, choral keyboard sound that opens the record with 20 seconds of melodic sighs. It rises to the surface here and there casting a shaft of light through the clouds on the chorus of ‘Ingurgitated Liquids’ and providing an icy coda on ‘Death Bed – The Yellow Room’. I’ll admit that ‘Discharge + Popul Vuh’ seems a pretty out there and unlikely combination and maybe some people just won’t be onboard for it but it works surprisingly well, weaving through the general assault adding space and texture.
They pitch the light against the dark on the beatless ‘Pain Of Innocence’, which sees the heavenly choir gradually obliterated by scorching outbursts of grating noise. It resets things for the aptly named ‘Blood Boiler’, the tune here with the most Motörhead in its DNA. The closing title track roars and burns like the rest of them for a couple of minutes, but gives way to a final section of abstract piano, tape hiss and spoken word. Dark but light hearted, it plays out a little like a ‘your mom’ joke at Chip King’s expense. If it is, it’s the one time the record’s apparent good humour descends to actual piss taking. For the most part they pitch it perfectly between sincere tribute and finding something new to contribute. A totally raging crust punk joy, but one that’s finally had a bath and put on a clean T-shirt. It’s more than OK.