III: Dark Black
23rd June 2017 - Undergroove Records
11. Victim (Caravan Tapes)
12. Toxins (Caravan Tapes)
Some albums are like old friends: they can provide comfort or solace in difficult times; act as company when you’re feeling alone; or be the difference between a good night and a great night – but that’s not the case with Mutation‘s III: Dark Black. If this album took physical form and made your acquaintance, it would be the type of friend who breaks down your door at five in the morning, sets fire to your couch and stamps on your hamster. You have been warned.
As the title infers, Dark Black is the third album to spring from the deranged collective marshalled into some form of order by Ginger Wildheart and Scott Lee Andrews. We first encountered their distinctive brand of caustic weirdness back in 2014 , when Error 500 was released and they rather caught us by surprise. This time around we’re a bit more prepared, but as we should have expected, Mutation have mutated. Dark Black is a more streamlined, less avant-garde affair than Error 500, without the stream-of-semi-consciousness contributions of Mark E Smith, but it is still as caustic an experience as bleach eye-drops. You know, in a good way.
One thing that immediately jumps out on that first listen to Dark Black is the production values – or rather, the lack of them. In a world where a digital rock thrown into the internet will bounce off three self-declared bedroom producers with cracked software before coming to rest on a doggo meme, this is a bold move. Either that, or the actions of people who don’t give a rat’s ass about dave365′s strongly held opinions on guitar tone or the snare’s place in the mix. With the levels on everything set to ‘ear bleed’, even the distortion is distorted. In this context, even a Simon & Garfunkel cover would be distinctly less than easy listening.
So, with the stage set, where does that leave us? Effectively, Dark Black feels like The Wildhearts meets Frontierer, and even tsunami sized waves of noise can’t completely suppress Ginger’s well-evidenced ear for a catchy hook. Some of these tracks, especially “Hate“, seem like they could hold their own even when stripped back to a busker-style voice and acoustic guitar, the gold standard of quality songwriting.
Elsewhere, Mutation turn a confrontational refrain of “Fuck off you cunt, you are an irritant” into a jolly sing-song and “Deterioration” does exactly what it says on the tin, gradually descending into an ever thicker soup of noise.
As with Error 500, a whole host of guests pop up to throw their two cents of madness into the pot, and the group is every bit as eclectic. Phil Campbell of Motorhead, the lightly terrifying Paul Catten of Medulla Nocte (and many more) a member of perennial punk troopers UK Subs and of Belgian art-rock weirdos dEUS. Oh, and probably most relevant to our regular readers, a certain Mr Devin Townsend pops up on “Devolution” to add some demented bombast, with predictably glorious results.
It was never really clear what would happen with Mutation after Error 500, so the emergence of Dark Black, together with the announcement of a run of live shows towards the end of the year, is a pleasant and welcome surprise. Or at least as pleasant and welcome as this much nerve-jangling noise can be, anyway. There’s a certain art to the manner in which Mutation are able to marry pop sensibilities with some of the most radio-unfriendly sounds imaginable. For some, it will be too much and for others, it will be utterly compulsive. Why not find out which group you fall into?