Lucky in ways I find it hard to admit, I have indeed been on the receiving end of some very notable gifts, unthinkable opportunities and unforgettable experiences that I cannot claim to have entirely deserved. Among these, and most recent, is the sneak peak I got a few minutes ago at bloody knives’ newest record, “blood.”
I was made aware of this Texas group by Jim Moon, sound manipulator for the band and former member of the duo I.O.K. (Instrument of Karma). I have a lot of respect of Moon’s work in-and-of-itself, but as soon as I heard bloody knives’ first release, “Burn It All Down,” I was completely blown away.
There are a couple reasons why I love bloody knives. First and most importantly I love bloody knives because I feel a visceral connection with their music. From one record to the next, this band employs a bevy of signature sounds and rhythms that evoke things past, internal – for me. This is literally the one band I can point to and say “there have long been sounds in my head that I never had the cunning nor talent to bring to fruition.” Bloody knives, of course, went much further than I ever could have actually imagined.
Lush synthesis and gritty 8-bit textures are enveloped by riotous drums while cutting right through it all you hear the singular melodies of Preston Maddox’s vocals and bass guitar. Somewhere in the noise of the late 20th century (my formative years) the basic ingredients for the bloody knives’ sound began to gestate over the radio.
This should not be taken to mean that bloody knives are rehashing industrial rock or shoe-gaze, but the ancestry is clear. And while the meticulously layered arrangement of sounds is mind-bending by itself, my favorite reason for listening to their records involves emotion. In the midst of all their bristling violence (Maddox’s voice half alive and wistful), Bloody Knives retain a stripped-down romantic component to their music. You know there’s a war on, but you still believe in love.
We all understand what rock music sounds like – and punk music, for that matter. We also know what industrial music and shoe-gaze sounds like. But we can never have too many reminders of how rich and beautiful music can be regardless of genre. Obviously, in a loveless and desensitized world, the best way to point something like that out is with a sharp blade, and that is – in my opinion – what bloody knives do best.
You’ll hear what I mean by this on “blood.” The record, true to bloody knives’ form, is a whirlwind tour of exploding sonic scenery, a rogues gallery of aural specters and exhilarating rhythms (courtesy of Jake McCown’s spotless live drumming). And through it all, lush, elegant movements sneak up on you like the sun rising over the Valley of the Shadow of Death. You don’t expect it, and it means much more here used in this way than anywhere else.
The song “undecided” is one clear example of these two opposing forces at play in the music. On the one hand you have drums and bass tearing-ass down a set of scorching rails, surrounded by a feeling of intense heat and light. Come the choruses, however, and the song blooms and dazzles. You don’t expect to see anything sparkle in hell, but there it is – massive in scope. The sound is something you get lost in, holding tight to the beat and yet somehow flowing, floating, rails-be-damned. In combination with Maddox’s delay-effected voice, the song is truly epic – a stand-out track (and the record’s longest song, clocking in at 4 minutes.)
The word I’m really looking for here is “majesty.” The sound isn’t just huge, the melodies aren’t just pretty – this record is ‘great’ in the same way we think of ancient geological formations as being ‘great.’ It can steal your breath with its beauty or crush your head with a rock. That is a very real power in music, and no longer quite so common.
While bloody knives have a distinct formula for their music, they are evolving and improving. The ‘signature-ness’ of their sound is not some stagnant, institutionalized thing – and it’s clear that the band challenges itself to go places they haven’t been while never losing line-of-sight with where they came from – a bullshit tight-rope walk that kills most bands but separates men from boys.
Noise and texture factor just as prominently on “blood” as on previous releases “Burn It All Down” and “disappear.” However, there’s more of a sense of control and purpose to the sound manipulation this time around beyond the degradation of audio. For all the sounds layered up on top of one another, nothing disappears.
By the way, ‘noisy’ does not mean messy or undisciplined – just the opposite, actually. While noise comes close to obscuring certain traditional musical elements like bass guitar, nothing is muddy in the sense of being poorly mixed. Underneath it all, the addition of sonic texture draws attention to some things, mutates others, but always compliments the mix as a whole. There is nothing on this record that shouldn’t be there.
The other indispensible element at play here is the sheer drive inherent in the music. “stare into your eyes” sends you headlong into the fray and doesn’t relent. A large amount of credit should go to McCown’s drumming, which is precise and impassioned. The sheer velocity these songs are able to evoke is palpable, a soundtrack for getaway drivers and drone pilots. In addition, I feel giddy listening to Texas shuffle-style beats employed in songs like the title track, “blood.”
Another notable component to “blood” as a record revolves around transitions from one track to the next. I hate the modern insensitivity Americans appear to have with regards to the experience of a complete album. We’re always looking for singles, even and especially when we shouldn’t be with bands that don’t make singles.
There are arguably a few singles on this record, but they aren’t built to stand-alone. They audibly lead right into the next song, cliffhanger style, so you want to know what happens next. The transitions are important because as a listener, you need that constant draw to embark on a start-to-finish journey in order to receive the complete and total satisfaction this record is capable of imparting, and transitions keep the concept of “flow” alive. Listening to “lesson” on it’s own will only get you only so far towards appreciating the power of this music, despite the strengths that song enjoys alone. Where each song goes, how they transition, and the overall arch of the album has an undeniable effect on the experience of the songs and the impression they make individually.
And then, darkness. I call bloody knives a “dark” band, with dark sounds and dark lyrical themes. But it’s not awash in darkness simply because black will never go out of style. How many bands contingent upon “dark” material can evoke the sensation of triumph in the same way a song like “problem” can? Bands like Joy Division and Nine Inch Nails come to mind – one had lesser technical ability than bloody knives, the other had far less soul. Even so, in terms of “darkness” and “triumph,” no one can score both in quite the same way bloody knives do on a consistent basis.
When I think of everything I hate about modern American music – the soulless, cowardly, lobotomized, homogenized, sugar-sweet, easy-access, overplayed, self-absorbed, greedy, unimaginative shit pumped through radios, Facebook ads, hip television shows, and in the hands of misguided youth from sea to shining sea – I think of bloody knives cutting through it all like a blast of brilliant, righteous light through hell, sparkling impossibly in the abyss. Future generations will come of age and ask me, “How did you put up with all the shitty music of the early 21st century?” And then, as I am want to do, I’ll put on a bloody knives record – probably this one.