Review: The Devil and the Sea - Heart vs Spine
Label: Acerbic Noise Development
Released: January 29, 2008
When an album runs wild, there's not usually a whole lot of middle ground. It's either on the verge of brilliance or on the verge of disaster. The Devil and the Sea are certainly wild. Like Black Flag before them, they take the spirit of free jazz (call it free punk, if you will) and apply it within the sphere of their own genre. Into this mix, they throw early thrash elements, doom and post-metal drone and the vocal stylings of a soul in turmoil.
While the album does rein in its wild abandon for a few tracks, it's at its best when it pushes. The drums are wild, the bass fuzzy and the overall character is manic.
At times, the band seems on the verge of disintegration, but always manages to hold it together by the sheer force of will that pushed the music to its limit in the first place. Heart vs Spine is not a melodic record so much so that the little bit of melody that sneaks in on "My Soul Is My Abacus" is shocking. Instead, it has the slow, lumbering energy of a very large beast that plods deliberately along and then suddenly breaks into a stampede.
Growling has become such a common convention in heavy music that it's almost an instant turn-off, but the Devil and the Sea is one instance where anything less would be inappropriate and, unlike other bands who are simply following the formula, this growl conveys real emotion and the manic fragility of being on the very edge. It goes beyond inarticulate anger and, most importantly, it works. It thrives on being harsh, not smooth.
Plenty of bands go for crazy, but so few succeed. I guess it's just one of those things that's hard to fake. The Devil and the Sea are either really good actors...or they're just nuts. Listen and decide for yourself.
If you're curious about my rating categories, read the description.