If there were ever a soundtrack to the apocalypse, The Body’s doom-laden masterpiece All the Waters of the Earth turn to Blood would be it.
The album starts peacefully enough, with the women of the Assembly of Light Choir laying out wavering notes and ominously beautiful harmonies in opener “A Body.” But you’ll start to get nervous about seven minutes in, when a dissonant ray of noise overwhelms the voices.
Suddenly, the song erupts in a blast of noise-metal fire and brimstone. While one of the choir’s singers lets out an agonized wail over a furious riff, guitarist Chip King draws up an end-of-days scene with his hideous, Godforsaken shriek: “Hands fail / Hearts fail / As babies born, as corpses dead / Vaguely alive with arms that forgot how to hold.”
The world of The Body is a dark one, indeed. The duo’s captivating hybrid of metal, experimental noise and choral music has won accolades from Pitchfork, NPR and The New York Times. But while plenty of bands don’t practice the darkness they preach, these two avid gun collectors— King and drummer Lee Buford—share a doom-centric frame of mind.
“We both have pretty negative worldviews,” Buford says. “We kind of both grew up in the punk scene, and, you know, that’s all based on social change, political change. And then, after a while, you realize that most things don’t change, ever. It kind of beats you down.”
The prospect of apocalypse figures heavily in their music. All the Waters, which was released in 2010 by At a Loss Recordings, takes its title from a line in “The Vision,” a 1970 song by the Bahamian folk musician Exuma that describes the horrors of Judgment Day. The 13-and-a-half-minute opus “Lathspell I Name You” offers a tour of Hell on Earth, with smoldering guitars, demonic voices and Latin verse: “I torment the living / I summon the plague / I disperse harm.”
The band takes inspiration from some of the world’s most infamous cults, fascinated by their perverse versions of salvation. “Song of Sarin, the Brave” alludes to Aum Shinrikyo’s attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, in which members of the Japanese cult used the poisonous chemical sarin to kill 13 people and injure more than 1,000 others. Samples of Charles Manson play over murmurs of noise and a deliberately paced beat: “I have no depth of pain. I have no depth of suffering. I don’t know ridicule.”
In spite of all the horrors, The Body’s music is often hypnotic, even somewhat therapeutic. On Nothing Passes, an EP released in September on which they collaborated with North Carolina noise-punks Braveyoung, the two bands use guitars and electronics to conjure droning howls and clouds of feedback, creating a certain comfort zone within the bowels of doom.
King and Buford started the band 11 years ago, back when they were still living in their home state of Arkansas. They both grew up in Little Rock, the state capital, and went to college in Fayetteville. “We pretty much just started the band out of boredom,” Buford says.
They’re often lumped in with the stoner-friendly doom-metal style, because they move at such a lurching pace. But in some ways, they’re more akin to black metal, a much bleaker sub-genre, due to their scraped-raw riffs, shrieking vocals and Biblical themes.
Still, they’re just as much an experimental noise band. For years, they resided in the noise-music stronghold of Providence, R.I., home to noise-rock greats Lightning Bolt and the noise-music label Load Records. They frequently collaborate with the prolific noise musician Scott Reber and recorded both of their albums at Machines with Magnets, a studio that’s also worked with Battles.
Their 2004 self-titled debut is plenty brutal, and their 2007 cover of Body Count’s heavy-metal classic “Cop Killer” is as raw as can be. But they forge a distinct sound on All the Waters with the help of collaborators like Providence’s 13-piece Assembly of Light Choir, led by the duo’s longtime friend Chrissy Wolpert.
“Empty Hearth” is one of the album’s most poignant tracks, a testament to the allure of even the zaniest theories in the face of a hopeless world. Over chopped-up drums and groaning noise, a sample plays of a church congregation reading prayers at a dizzying pace. The track will no doubt drive most listeners crazy, but its relentlessness has a mesmerizing quality.
“It’s one of those things where either people love it or just totally hate it,” Buford says. “There’s no middle ground on that one.”
The Body recently relocated to Greensboro, N.C., and they’ve recorded three new songs. But they’re not sure what the future will bring. We could all be fucked, sooner or later, which partly explains their fondness for automatic weapons.
“I think things will probably get bad at some point,” Buford says. “It’s good to be prepared.”
The Body play with Thou, Crime Desire, Age of Collapse and Ficciones at the Ché Café on Friday, Jan. 20. myspace.com/thevisionsshallcometopass. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @peterholslin.