Noise rock seems like a purposefully open-ended term. Year after year, the style provides space for experimentation within heavy rock music that frequently circles back to a pretty wild time. Here are six standout gems of the noise rock (or at least strongly noise rock-adjacent) sort from the first part of 2020.
BELK – BELK
The Leeds-based noise rock duo Belk present an awesomely immersive, aggressive cacophony on their self-titled EP that emerged in April. The group sounds like they’ve got a lot more than just two members — the guitar riffs twist and cavort with gut-rattling lurches of intensity, and the drum patterns run along a parallel path of a confrontationally abrasive and musically rich meltdown. Importantly, there’s also a readily apparent sense of strong melody that runs through the twisting guitar and drum chaos, which helps the songs land with an extra emotion-rattling thud.
Belk sounds somewhat like the soundtrack to someone twisting and shouting on a stage — in the first song, “Cows,” the singer shouts: “Come on, debase yourself again!” and the sounds of this music fit the scene that those lyrics suggest quite perfectly.
It’s really a wonder that there are only three songs on this EP, because the tracks all feature a lot of dynamically rich intensity. From the wavering melodies of “Cows” to the unsure-sounding lurches of groove interspersed with more brazen chaos on “Belligerence/IWSY,” there’s a lot to dig into here. The duo have turned jumping outside the realm of stability into a richly invigorating listening experience.
Easy Prey – Relentless Struggle
The Austin, Texas-based band Easy Prey sound powerful on their intense, stormy new record Relentless Struggle. They combine a very rich sense of melody along the lines of classic, heavy post-hardcore with some real raw ferocity. Their songs feature super thick-toned guitars that feel like they’ve got the consistency of the insides of a concrete mixer right alongside consistently energetic, propulsive rhythms on the drums and other instruments that keep the band’s beastly intensity funneled straight towards the listener.
The songs definitely always feel super heavy, but there are also a lot of intriguing dynamics packed in here, from the especially front-and-center guitar melodies of “L’appel Du Vide” to the jagged, punching blasts of groove that run throughout the following song, “Steamrolled” — which feels pretty aptly named, considering the way that the music sounds. Perhaps some of the most poignantly emotionally upending melody on the whole record appears on the closing track, “A Study in Acute Narcissism” — which doubles as an especially pummelingly heavy moment on the album. The song seems to exemplify the band’s catchy approach quite well. They’ve taken the core of a sort of post-hardcore sense of engaging melody and made it absolutely pummeling, without losing what made the melodies so enriching in the first place. In so doing, they’ve made something like a soundtrack to a mudslide, because every element lands with super heavy intensity.
Check out the music below! It’s out via 1407 Records.
Elm – The Wait
The Italy-based noise rock group Elm sound like they might be from somewhere like Louisiana. Their noise rock is packed full of heavy, swaggering groove like might be most familiar thanks to its presence in styles like “southern” rock and metal. The band’s transposition of these stylistic elements well outside of the southern United States helps exemplify the widely accessible, confrontational soulfulness at the core of the styles.
Thanks to the ominously looming yet clearly powerful atmosphere of their music, Elm definitely sound like they’re exploring the darkness of some back corners of society, The band members have captured a pulsating, propulsive sonic statement that sounds like a musical encapsulation of a beating heart of some of the most foreboding big city alleys and shadowy backwoods hideaways.
There are a lot of dynamic swings across the album, which amplifies the inescapably engaging soulfulness. “Shell of a Man,” for instance, features some particularly gnarly hard rock/ heavy metal-style riffing amidst the tumult. Amidst all the dynamics, there’s a consistent accessibly post-hardcore texture, along the lines of a band like Fugazi.
After opening segments on the album that feel loud and energetic, the band get into some more directly foreboding, atmospheric territory at moments like the heavy bass groove of “Violence Is Golden” and the slower, creeping feel of the song “Believe or Burn.” Right after those songs, Elm launch right back into the energy with track “A Storm Is Coming,” which is packed full of spirals of aggressive guitar melody that set up a listening experience along the lines of walking into a forest that’s been engulfed in flames.
Check out The Wait below! It’s out via Bronson Recordings.
HEADS. – Push
Kicking off with a track full of pulses of ominous feedback and somberly spoken-word vocals, the latest album from Berlin’s HEADS. sounds like a soundtrack to despondent chaos. The scenes that play out in this music constitute rushing around under some endlessly ominous specter, as the guitar melodies never quite form into something that feels inviting but always feel like they sweep listeners off their feet into the album’s world of caustic uncertainty. Anxiety is real here — the melodies push and pull with a heavy, biting groove that feels like it’s catalyzing some sort of meltdown.
“Weather Beaten” features percussive-sounding guitar melodies that build up into a pummeling in the song’s conclusion, in which the drums devolve into a march-like segment. Meanwhile, follow-up track “Push You Out To Sea” promptly launches into more aggressively wavering guitar groove that sounds a bit like a sonic encapsulation of some kind of earthquake shock waves. There’s a super strong melody — and some solo-worthy riffing packed right in the middle of the song — but the band keep their sound ominously heavy and confrontationally anxious. There’s an extremely heavy bass line that pops up at moments like the track “Loyalty,” for example.
“Rusty Sling” might be one of the best examples of the band’s heavy, meandering groove that feels perfectly suited to sink your teeth into. Meanwhile, “Nobody Moves & Everybody Talks” kicks energy up again like a strike of lightning hitting the sludgy noisy groove that provides the backbone of the album.
Dive into Push below! It’s out on Glitterhouse Records.
Tesa – Control
On their new album Control, the Latvia-based group Tesa perform a lengthy, hypnotic noise rock that’s been funneled through the extended melodies of post-rock and post-metal. One major difference between the conventions of those styles and Control is that the Latvian band have captured songs that feel startlingly emotionally abrasive. There’s not a lot of respite here, but the band have provided an enriching window into intense, emotional builds via their repeating, emotionally building intensity.
The band’s music hinges on heavy, kicking drums intermingled with crunchy bass groove and endlessly forward-bounding guitar riffing. The sheer energy in the music feels frequently impressively invigorating – the first few minutes of the album alone feature guitar riffing that bounds along pretty magnificently. The latter part of track one gets into slower riffing that builds up into an impressively invigorating, bubblingly cacophonous (and increasingly heavy) conclusion, and these crescendos amidst the rocky haze capture much of the spirit of the entirety of Control.
Throughout the whole piece, there’s a rich, heavy drama, and it’s honestly pretty emotionally moving thanks to the intensity. There are no lyrics, but there’s a readily apparent, rich passion in these heavy, melodically propulsive songs.
Track 4 ends up very dramatic thanks in part to the spider-armed drumming and heavy riffing, and the melodies at the end of track 5 also feel pretty dramatic, this time thanks to some rapid shifts in the dynamics. As the album proceeds, the passion gets especially immersive as the melodic waves of guitar riffs repeat and the cycle of tension and release continues.
Dive into Control below! It’s available via My Proud Mountain.
Vincas – Phantasma
From the very first moments, Phantasma — the latest record from the Athens, Georgia-based group Vincas — feels like listeners have been suddenly transported to a haunted bayou. There’s a soulful darkness to pretty much all of the elements of the sound, from the reverberating croon of the singer to the pulsating melodies on the guitar, which flow like billowing clouds suddenly filling up the listening space. The lyrical themes, which come through clearly thanks to the clean singing, figure prominently, and the lyrics on the very first track set the mood in a very definitive tone with a tale of “when it rains red,” which is obviously referring to a mythical rainstorm of blood.
Notably, the band’s sound feels very grounded. The tones are earthy and strangely inviting, no matter the foreboding darkness of the melodies, and elements like the strong but contemplative atmosphere-setting drum rhythms that pop up especially poignantly at moments like the track “The Witch” give a real strong backbone to the music.
There are a lot of dynamics here — “The Witch” ends on a slow note with lyrics about building a bed out of bones, and then follow-up track “Bury Me Upside Down” immediately launches into pretty fast, blood-pumping guitar rhythm.
There’s always a strongly propulsive melody running through the music of Phantasma, which makes Vincas feel like they’re approaching post-punk territory. More directly, the strong melody turns the band’s exploration of striking darkness into a richly good time.
Check out Phantasma below! It’s available via Learning Curve Records.