Meth is a mathcore/noise-rock band from Chicago, Illinois. The six-piece deputed as a three-piece with 2017 with The Children are Watching, an EP which steered headlong into grindcore and black metal without looking back and will flat out blow your skin off in its short runtime. 2018 saw the addition of three new members and a hard turn toward atmosphere and noise rock on the I Love You EP. Now, Meth brings forward their most coherent and ambitious project to date with their debut LP, Mother of Red Light.
From the start of the record, many things become clear, not the least of which that we are in for some fantastic lines from lead guitarist, Zack Farrar! Tracks like the opener, “Failure,” or later cuts like “Inbred,” feature guitar work that is at time melodic and accessible and other times pure chaos. It’s this tonal dexterity which allows the guitar to lead the every instrumental whether through catchy hooks or abrasive swells and everything in between.
When the tone does become abrasive, however, it’s Seb Alvarez’ lead vocals which take a clear front seat. The handful of quieter, poetic moments are nice additions, but the crushing, unbridled screams on songs like “Child of God,” and “Cold Prayers,” drive the band’s full power. The vocals are often layered to fantastic effect with a brutal mixture of growls and screeches backed by the lower, calmer elements.
In addition to the death and black metal influences, this record has a strong math-core element at its core which is felt in the bizarre and unpredictable time changes that characterize even the heaviest moments. “Swallowed Conscience,” and “Her Womb Lays Still,” fall back to back and exemplify this perfectly. From slower passages with complex rhythms to explosive climaxes which layer and alternate time signatures, the entire sound is consistently held together by wonderful drum work from Andrew Smith and an impressive tightness from the rest of the group.
Ultimately, however, Mother of Red Light is set apart from contemporaries by the gloomy, nocturnal atmosphere which hangs over every track. It’s this atmosphere that allows the band to carry longer cuts like the seven minute, “Psalm of Life,” as the constant sense of dread seems to drive even the most minimal moments, and in the monstrous and speedy follow up, “Return Me,” that dread is brought to fruition as the band brings the pain with thrashing guitars brutal screams. The entire record is spent either being knocked out of your chair by hellish climaxes or waiting in anticipation for the next explosive passage.
This all brings us to the 11-minute closer, “The Walls, They Whisper.” This is certainly the most ambitious track on the album as it takes up about a quarter of the runtime and, for the most part, this pays off. The long, dreary poem which opens the song is effective and the anticipation reaches a fever pitch with the droning, clean guitar. When the breakdown finally comes, it’s perfectly doomy and powerful. That being said, this track is a good example of all the issues with this album. The nearly four minute passage of only radio fuzz, while disorienting, loses its effect long before it ends, and when the band finally returns, the momentum is simply dead.
And this is the album’s biggest issue in total. While the atmosphere and progressive elements set the sound apart from nearly everything else in the genre, I’m also left with far too much slack. I wouldn’t want to pull this experimentation out of the project entirely, but reigning it in here and there would allow the record to feel tighter and better paced in a way it desperately needs.
That being said, this is a fantastic debut. Meth is experimenting with one of the darkest, heaviest sounds around and this record leaves me extremely hopeful for future releases. While they do tend to get lost in their own heads a bit, too much risk is always preferable to too little, especially when most of it pans out well.
Mother of Red Light is a dark, disorienting experience from an exciting young act.
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