REVIEW: JOHN FRUM – “A Stirring in the Noos”
When starting a band, what’s in a name? What does the name by which you identify all that you are as a band, from sound to ideals and beyond, say to anyone who stumbles upon you? There are some oddities out there, as well as plenty of serious names, but the name John Frum doesn’t conjure a lot of information. Owing their moniker to the cult found in Tanna, Vanuatu (where mock airstrips and airports are established with the hope that Western wealth and material goods will be dropped as promised by the mysterious John Frum), this supergroup of musicians from The Faceless, The Dillinger Escape Plan, John Zorn and Intensus couldn’t offer any less indication of their sound if they tried. So what’s the score with their debut, ‘A Stirring in the Noos’?
Self-described as “darkly psychedelic and meticulously-crafted death metal”, John Frum’s debut is every bit a meticulously-crafted slab of dangerous, despicable music as the above states. There are riffs for days, bowel-churning growling vocals, and thumping, sledgehammer slams aplenty across the forty-four-minutes. And as the final strains of closer “Wasting Subtle Body” decay, the resulting feeling is one of bleak emptiness. There is absolutely no warmth on this record – it’s the audible representation of a winter wasteland with no hope left of recovery (almost sounds oddly prophetic, no?)
Likened by the band themselves as “the backdrop of a bad trip”, it’s one horrific trip that just keeps coming (like flashback memories after a heavy night out drinking). Just listen to the opening swirl of “Memory Palace” and try not to imagine that morning where the hangover is biting hard: the snakes in your stomach are writhing and the pain in your head threatens to carve your cranium open; then memories of the night before leap out from the dank cesspit of despair that is your pickled mind, delivering horror after horror of embarrassing antics. It drags and ekes every strain of you before eventually relenting at the song’s end, leaving a wreck of a human in its wake. Yet, much like the aftermath of a drinking marathon, many of the “recoveries” are false dawns. Cue tracks like “He Come”: a bludgeoning instrumental that’s an aural kick to the teeth when you’re down.
Initially, ‘The Stirring in the Noos’ is a difficult listen. It’s so cold and so mercilessly executed that there’s nothing that immediately hooks into the listener. The musicianship and production on display here are sublime, and, in fairness, that is to be expected given the calibre of musicians from the aforementioned bands. Yet, despite this, the record’s memorability is somewhat lacking. Even after multiple listens, each track is so cold and chocked full of thunderous mid-tempo riffs that it’s a struggle to make a concrete attachment to it. The bite of the instrumental “He Come” does buck the trend somewhat, whilst the black metal-esque “Through Sand & Spirit” expands the horizons admirably – but the meticulousness of the writing seems to have sucked a bit of life out of proceedings.
‘The Stirring in the Noos’ is about as hard-hitting a debut as one could want from a death metal band. Given their psychedelic leanings, John Frum’s purpose here is to make the most uncomfortable of records to listen to, and there’s certainly a lacking of comfort about this album. There’s no traditional Hammond to hear, nor any Hawkwind-esque space passages, but the arctic conditions and heady sense of foreboding certainly feels like a nasty come-down from some form of heavy, narcotic-laden adventure. But for a little more song memorability, this would be the soundtrack to next weekend’s hangover (though given how bloody it sounds, maybe wait until after it subsides).