Being a big fan of the whole UK post-industrial scene, the Pathological, Freek, Broken Flag and Headdirt labels, bands like Skullflower, Ramleh, Splintered, Slab!, etc., it's weird that I never got into the band Bodychoke before. Part of it is that their stuff has been out of print for years and I just never came across any of their albums, but Bodychoke also came along later in the 90's, around the time that this scene began to drift deeper underground. Thanks to Relapse for reissuing this 1998 album, though, because this stuff rules. Cold River Songs originally came out on the Purity label, and has been presented here in a remastered form with three bonus tracks (originally from the limited Completion cdr) and new artwork and album design.
The band was formed by members of power electronics legends Sutcliffe Jugend and Whitehouse, a massive noise rock unit that fused together industrial rhythms, crushing riffage, dark dramatic baritone vocals that sound a whole lot like Michael Gira from Swans, and nihilistic lyrics. By the time that Bodychoke recorded their third and final album Cold River Songs, they had evolved into a sinister combination of the pummeling mechanistic heaviness of Godflesh, the grim and dramatic crush of Swans, and the gloomy post-punk of Joy Division and Nick Cave.
The album starts off with the heavy guitar noise and tribal drumming of "Control", ominous martial snares coming in, the sound very Swans-like, and then it changes into a frenzied noise rock jam, screaming vocals and seething riffage, bits of electronic noise and cello, a pummeling industrial noise rock groove. The next track "Cold River Song" is a longer jam that starts off with atmospheric clean guitar strum and drums, the cello coming back in and giving the sound an epic, dolorous feel, and as the song stretches out for almost ten minutes, the softer post-rock sound is contrasted with violent eruptions of distorted riffs and pounding percussion, building slowly to the chaotic crescendo at the end. More cello dominates "Your Submission", whose sparse bass lines and skittering dubby percussion at first creates a dark, brooding vibe, Paul Taylor's deep crooning vocals and the electronic noises adding to the moody post-rock crawl, but then the track erupts into a super heavy spaced out tribal jam with screamed vocals, corrosive slabs of guitar noise, pounding militaristic snares, scraped cello strings, a pounding industrial post-punk heaviness that segues right into the song "Victim". This track starts off almost like a chamber rock piece, eerie cello drones and electronic ambience and tribal percussion slowly building to another frenzied noise rock eruption, squalls of guitar noise and heavy drumming pounding out a hypnotic waltzing groove, similar to later-era Swans or Killing Joke.
The Swans comparison is most obvious on "Ideal Home", though. It's a standout track that's much more somber and restrained than the rest of the album, a slow moody dirge that's led by the bass guitar and cello and surrounded by clean guitars and violins and subtle percussion, dramatic and brooding and very Swans-like, especially when the distinctly Gira-like singing comes in. And "Aftermath", which closed the original album, is another ominous post-punk jam, almost entirely instrumental save for some deep chanting choir-like vocals, the sound minimal and spacey, droning horns and moaning cello mixing with minor key guitar and sprawling dramatic ambience, finally building into squalls of psychedelic, Skullflowery noise guitar. The three bonus tracks at the end are similar, winding noise-laced rock with explosive feedback, haunting cello strings, pounding Killing Joke-style drumming, and fierce screamed vocals. This album is so heavy and haunting; I can't get enough of it, and can't believe that I've just now discovered it. A definite recommendation for anyone into heavy noise rock, Uk industrial, that sort of thing; this is one of the best albums that I've ever heard from that era of underground UK heaviness!