Review: Come Test Death Grips and Get Sliced on ‘Bottomless Pit’
Release Date: May 6, 2016
Label: Third Worlds / Harvest
Four years ago, Death Grips exemplified the anti-corporate violence and rugged individualism of black-bloc anarchism. The tattooed and bearded Stefan Burnett boomed and growled like a punk incarnation of Chuck D, while Andy “Flatlander” Morin punched out electronic fusillade. Drummer Zach Hill composed impossibly ornate drum volleys while showing us his erect dick. Then, in July 2014, the band seemed to implode as suddenly as they’d emerged, claiming, “We are now at our best and so Death Grips is over.”
The group quickly reneged on their promise, of course — otherwise, we wouldn’t have the new Bottomless Pit. But that farewell letter represents a demarcation point when Death Grips evolved from a bizarrely fascinating and unstable viral cataclysm into a really good indie band (sponsored by Universal Music, of course). They still have the facility to surprise us: Jenny Death, the second half of last year’s double album The Powers That B, found them ingeniously filtering their digital squalls through Black Flag-like sludgecore. More stunts abound, like Interview 2016, a YouTube video that found the group performing for and being interviewed by “celebrity correspondent” Matthew Hoffman, only with the audio tuned to an instrumental EP by Morin and Hill. (Good luck finding the limited-edition cassette version. It’s already trading for over $100.)
At this point, we know what a Death Grips album will sound like: Bottomless Pit is a digital-hardcore barf bag. “Hot Head” pops off IDM breakcore chaos, rendering Burnett’s energetic chants about “style attack” even less comprehensible. (Lest you really misinterpret though, his lyrics are posted on the Death Grips website.) “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” roars like a thrash tune, with Hill using his drumsticks to tap out a standard 1-2-3-4 before launching a sound war first waged by Ministry circa The Land of Rape and Honey. Despite their sonic allusions to earlier malcontents, Death Grips’ electronic immolations are completely unique unto themselves. And Sactown kids will appreciate references to local phenomena like “Tent City,” the infamous encampment built by homeless people along the American River.
Yet much of Death Grips’ appeal is largely in their unrepentant abrasiveness; as Burnett chants and shouts, his voice hits like an electric current. His words are a blur of bodily functions and sensory highs, whether it’s the taste of his blood on the mock-trumpet parade of “Trash,” or bellowing from a “psychopathic steel trap” in the synthesized sludge of “Warping.” Sometimes his words conform to the strictures of what music fans refer to as rap; other times he’s just a punk ranter, chest stuck out and eyes glaring intensely on tracks like “Houdini,” where he warns, “Come test me f**ks get sliced.”
He insults us over Morin’s noodling techno on “Eh,” taunting, “Who you think you are f**ks / Do you know who I am f**ks / Fail to understand I’m like / Eh.” Last year, on the Niggas on the Moon half of The Powers That B, he extended a fig leaf in the form of “Say Hey Kid,” where he seductively said, “Hello there, hello there / I’m perfect now and then.” This go-around, he doesn’t bother to ingratiate himself: “I’m on leisure,” he says on “Eh.” “Just stamp my f**king visa.”
So what rewards can we reap from this? “Bubbles Buried in This Jungle” is a pummeling bass masher that will leave you elbows out and swinging at a basement party. And “80808” is just that, a rhythmic bed of 808 drum machine beats over which silent anchor Morin lays a spooky keyboard line. And so forth; musical pleasure is never a casualty of their incinerating rage. Bottomless Pit is a rowdy and hypnotic 40-minute suite of alienation and controlled anger. It’s Death Grips. F**k with them.