With grindcore being a style of music that prides itself on its abrasiveness, it only makes sense that a substantial portion of the genre’s appeal stems from the weight of the sheer sonic beat-down it is able to thrust upon those who dare venture into its imposing caverns of down-tuned distortion. With pioneers of the style pushing the boundaries of extreme music to breaking-point, the pure, vitriolic viscera of grindcore one-ups that of hardcore punk, with its merciless aggression almost seeming as if it is as much levelled towards the listener as it is the powers that be. However, with the grindcore blueprint being a relatively straightforward one when stripped right down to its brittle bones, and deliberately so, the decades of bands regurgitating this formula have led to a need for some more impressive demonstrations of skill or panache to truly stand out in the metal and punk scenes. Taking a band like Full of Hell as an example, the Pennsylvanian powerviolence group has carved out a definitive musical identity for itself within the genre courtesy of its bevy of creative collaborations with artists such as The Body and Merzbow — whose respective styles rival the causticity of grindcore, whilst adding enough finesse to its formula to make for some dynamic and diverse endeavours — just as their solo material has been varied enough in its compositional substance to make for some arresting projects that nevertheless stay largely true to a tried-and-tested grindcore blueprint. Likewise, IDYLLS have also carved out a distinctive position for themselves within the current grindcore landscape, but in a rather different and more peculiar fashion.
Although the Brisbane-based band’s debut album from 2012, Farewell All Joy, diverged little from the usual trappings of grindcore, whilst also displaying a pronounced influence from the stylings of some of metalcore’s most intense acts, most notably Converge, this first full-length release from IDYLLS also established the group as being exceptionally extreme and unforgiving, even by the standards set by their contemporaries and progenitors. Indeed, with songs that seldom stretched over the two-minute mark, including a handful that were done and dusted in less than 60 seconds, it seemed as if IDYLLS’s modus operandi on Forever All Joy was primarily based around battering the listener with the most barbarous auditory abuse possible, and they were unquestionably successful in this regard. With the band’s debut record seemingly being deliberately colourless and soul-crushing in its unabated brutality, IDYLLS left little room for themselves to show off much in the way of compositional flair, which they addressed two years later on their sophomore album, Prayer For Terrene. With a newfound tendency to favour compositions packed with more tangled twists and turns, and with the added flourish of some screaming saxophone incidentals, IDYLLS’s second full-length undertaking provided exactly the diversity and dynamism in their songwriting and overall sound to sate the tastes of those who had hoped for a more defined sense of direction to the band’s primal savagery, and their latest album, The Barn, continues this trend. Whilst the addition of a saxophone to the group’s instrumental arsenal on Prayer For Terrene played a largely textural role, rather than having any bearing over the stylistic underpinnings of the band, The Barn witnesses IDYLLS take some cues from jazz in their songwriting, alluding to a likely influence from the fusion of grindcore and free jazz by the John Zorn-led experimental troupe Naked City, or the comparable blends of post-punk and jazz by Nick Cave’s early band The Birthday Party. Although these influences are relatively subtle for the most part, the fact that IDYLLS are far more prone to employing some more complex rhythmic patterns on their new album, whilst the role of the saxophone is significantly more integral to the structure of these pieces, shows that the spirit of jazz has seeped its way into their stylings on The Barn, with the band approaching grindcore from a definitively avant-gardist angle. The end product amounts to what is surely IDYLLS’s texturally densest and most structurally diverse endeavour to date, with The Barn proving the band to have an appetite for continued artistic growth, making them one of the more novel groups in the current grindcore climate.
Although this newfangled influence from the tortuous and free-spirited complexity of avant-garde jazz is rather subtle across The Barn, it certainly provides more than enough of a driving force to advance IDYLLS’s songwriting to its most twisted, textured and diverse. In particular, the slightly reimagined role of the drums in the band’s compositional framework across some of these tracks makes for some songs that are exceptionally intense in their serpentine nature. Of course, IDYLLS have never been a band to dwell on any single rhythmic pattern for a particularly long period of time, with their songs typically being packed to the brim with jarring compositional zigzags, but the drumming across The Barn is far more fundamental to the place of suspense and release in these pieces compared to the group’s past output, as is evidenced by the fact that blast beats are utilised far less frequently, with intricate freak-outs being favoured a lot more often instead. The unceasing fluency of the rhythmic patterns across much of The Barn makes for some explosive pay-offs within many of the more linear songs, as is the case on the opening track, No Virility. With erratic, jazzy rhythms highlighting the hectic heights of the cut, as the squealing saxophone cuts through the meaty bass fuzz and the piercing snarls of guitar, and with sinuous snare work holding together the track’s looser sections, the incessant chaos of the drumming across No Virility is constantly stockpiling gnarled tension that is released in a hugely satisfying fashion at the end of the cut, as the drums devolve into a straight, post-punk beat that supports a fat bass groove and the song’s sharpest guitar riffs. Other songs are similarly dramatic, with a track like Learnt Young packing the explosiveness of No Virility into a much smaller space, with the cut constantly flip-flopping between propulsive punk grooves and eruptions of punctuated rhythmic tumult, with these abrupt detonations of unhinged drum work making for some of the most effectively jarring moments across the entire record. This being said, IDYLLS’s newfound propensity for suddenly unleashing insane musical cataclysms on the listener over the course of The Barn has its limits in terms of for how long this trick can be utilised in fresh and engaging ways, and this is a limit that the band occasionally overstrains. Although these headlong rushes of frantic instrumentation are nearly always included in a composition in such a way as to not negatively affect its pacing, with much of The Barn, in fact, feeling fittingly fluid in spite of its excessively free-form structure, there are nevertheless moments wherein IDYLLS will give the cold shoulder to some captivating ideas, in favour of interrupting them with some more manic passages of screeching saxophone soloing and berserk rhythms. This can lead to cuts such as Choke Opportunity and much of the nine-and-a-half-minute closing track, In The Barn, being turbulent and clamorous to the point of coming across as somewhat directionless. For the most part, however, IDYLLS incorporate these frenzied blizzards of punk jazz pandemonium into many of these tracks in such a way as to keep the piece free-flowing and gratifying in its use of pay-off, with The Barn, as a result, ranking perhaps as the band’s most dynamic undertaking thus far.
Undoubtedly, compared to IDYLLS’s previous projects, The Barn could be said to be more freakish than ferocious, courtesy of the Zorn-esque saxophone embellishments and the more diverse and complex application of rhythm to many of these compositions, but the no-nonsense vigour of hardcore punk and grindcore still acts as the anchor that keeps much of the album rooted in the stylistic underpinnings that have defined the band up until this point. As the group has proven with their past output, IDYLLS are arguably at their best when they strike a cogent balance between the ear-splitting firepower that they have consistently brandished through their mammoth sound, and a degree of detail in their songwriting that packs their compact compositions with as many textures and dashes of character as possible, making for some strangely colourful hellscapes. In the case of The Barn, this is most definitely a balance that the band strikes successfully, even on a track like Neuroqueering On Shift, which, compared to the rest of the record, stays far more true to a typical grindcore formula. The blistering hardcore punk grooves across the song provide more than enough in terms of thrust, just as the thick tone of the bass acts as the perfect counterbalance for the razor-sharp guitar chords that rip through much of the song, whilst the occasional abrupt beat switch or outbreak of accents encapsulate the jagged twists and turns strewn throughout IDYLLS’s music that are likely to keep the listener on their toes as much as they do the band. On the topic of the overall tonal balance of The Barn, the sizeable role of the bass across the album is especially impressive, and it acts as a testament to the production value of the record, which essentially captures the exact equilibrium between the piercing noise of the guitars and the steely muscle of bass that benefits a band like IDYLLS precisely. Indeed, with the role of the guitars on a song such as Neuroqueering On Shift being largely dedicated to building towering walls of shrill noise, the fact that these hellholes of discordance find a firm footing in the resounding bedrock of beefy bass allows the group to go as wild as they want with the squawking saxophones and wailing guitars, as the robust backbone of the bass and drums grooves is always there to hold down the fort. This sense of stability encompasses the entire essence of the foundation of songs such as Muck And Vulnerability, as the distorted bass and pounding drums fall into a driving post-punk groove that provides some throttling low-end to counteract the penetrating guitar leads, whilst even during the spiralling chaos of the snappy Glare From The Shallow Basin, the earth-shattering vibrations of bulky bass supply the song with the sturdy substratum needed for piling on the layers of misshapen dissonance. Even when the guitars play a much more melodic role, as opposed to lining a track with walls of pealing noise, such as on On My Chopping, the bass and drum combo weaves between tight freak-outs and powerful punctuated sections that, when forced into combat with the guitar’s searing riffs, make for one of the album’s most vibrant and well-textured cuts. Ultimately, it’s this rigid foundation that allows room for IDYLLS’s heightened experimentation on The Barn to come to full fruition, with even the record’s freakiest moments being driven forward by the guiding hand of the tight rhythm section and the band’s capacity to maintain a sense of purpose to their compositions amidst their many sharp turns.
As unexpected as many points of IDYLLS’s artistic growth may seem, such as their adoption of a saxophone or their appropriation of jazz-influenced elements into their vociferous grindcore stylings, their evolution throughout their career has nevertheless been made to feel incredibly natural, which is exemplified by The Barn and its significance to the band’s discography. With Farewell All Joy establishing just how explosive the group’s sound is, Prayer For Terrene built upon this with more diverse songwriting and a slightly expanded sonic palette, which, in turn, has been expanded upon further with The Barn, with the inclusion of a saxophone having led to a subtle, but no less significant, jazz sensibility. Of course, this state of continued development doesn’t necessarily have any bearing over which of IDYLLS’ three records is their best, but with The Barn effectively representing the pinnacle of the band’s stylistic and sonic progression up until this point, the case can surely be made that this is their most fully realised project thus far. Either way, considering the momentum that they have gathered over the course of their past three records, it looks unlikely that IDYLLS will falter in their position as one of grindcore’s most refreshing acts any time soon, rather, at this rate, their intangible stylings will most likely continue to snowball into something even more mind-bending in the future.
The Vinyl Verdict: 7.5/10