From sinister synths to demonic horns to dislocated guitars, melody has always been a factor in Wolf Eyes’ paranoid dystopia, but very rarely the Michigan-based trio’s true focus. Over scores of nightmarish cassettes, singles, and long players — some eternal, others cruelly limited-edition — cut since 1996, the core function of any hook up-chucked while plumbing a unique collective-unconscious was to act as a coat rack for wholesale, insectine cacophony.
To recall a certified Wolf Eyes wraith (“Rotten Tropics” from 2002’s Dead Hills, “Stabbed in the Face” from 2004’s Burned Mind, “Cellar,” from 2009’s Always Wrong) was not so much to remember the specifics of a refrain or particular arrangement of tones as it was to vividly relive how the song crawled through speakers to flambé your soul. One did not hum along to a Wolf Eyes LP. Rather, we cowered in anxious wonderment as a sonic Pandora’s puzzle box of squealing, shrieking, and lowing effects tumbled over — and over, and all over – a determined, noisome hash that made mincemeat of metal, industrial, and hardcore punk without fully dismissing those genres.
For their Third Man Records debut, John Olson, Nate Young, and Jim Baljo do something revolutionary — they actively court and embrace melody. I Am a Problem: Mind in Pieces evokes classical Wolf Eyes in ways that count, but under that rich seasoning of clatters, slithers, feedback, and digested vocal malaise writhe songs. “Catch the Rich Train” opens the album with a trance-like helix of stark electric piano chords and gauzy saxophones, before descending into a half-slaughter where fried, flickering riffs keep its central theme upright. “Cynthia Vortex AKA Trip Memory Illness” feels like several scabrous versions of the same deconstructed dirge battling for supremacy, while keeping their eyes locked on an essentially meditative motif.
The anthemic, Black Sabbath doom of “Twister Nightfall” will sound equally majestic and deranged in basements and VFW halls alike; the smeared, slugly “T.O.D.D.” sulks and glows like a bugged-out reimagining of Indian Jewelry’s blazing lighter-lifters. Mind in Pieces largely favors a Jello-mold pace that “Enemy Ladder” explodes in the late innings, a raw jolt of apocalyptic chants, pounding drums, and a snowballing din. This isn’t quite your weird uncle’s Wolf Eyes, capable of clearing a den and ending the party in 30 seconds flat — but it’s a Wolf Eyes that’s still capable of scaring off half the guests. The other half will find a lot to love here.