Review: Death Grips, that powers that b
Chloe Mayne checks out the epic new record from Sacramento-based industrial electro-hoppers Death Grips:
My relationship with Death Grips feels like it’s in an odd sort of flux. Ever since the day that an office co-worker sat me down with Exmilitary as we clocked onto a shift, they’ve been my secret weapon. The Money Store was the soundtrack that hurtled me through my last two years of a philosophy degree, rushing the adrenalin to my fingers when it was past midnight and I had an essay on Heidegger to wrap up by morning.
My adoration, once tucked neatly beneath covers, burst forth after witnessing them live twice during the European festival summer. Zach Hill’s raucous, incessant drums sweated loose over the brow of Stefan Burnett’s primal, forehead ripping raps. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. Then, just as everything was set skyward, they went and announced that they were breaking up. While their reasoning (that the band was at its peak) was brilliant, I felt as though my heart had been silently squashed. Cue, then, my exaltation when Death Grips dropped the powers that b. Worming its way to the surface via a string of mysterious social media hints, it was the glorious almost-posthumous treat that we’d all been asking the tooth fairy for.
The first half of the record, Niggas On The Moon (which was actually released as a standalone last June) is a great and twisted ride. The instrumentation of this disc was recorded entirely by Hill on a Roland V-Drum kit, and it happens to feature chopped up Björk vocals on every track. Sliding back into place with Up My Sleeves, it quickly devolves into the delicious slow-pounding chaos that’s become a Death Grips trademark. Turned up loud enough, it’s as though a pair of gigantic trucks are drag racing on either side of your face. It’s this sensation of overwhelm that makes Death Grips so magical to me. When you first play them to somebody uninitiated, the growing look of wide-eyed fright on their face is palpable. I find it difficult to say why I love this band to bits but I feel uncomfortable, for example, listening to The Prodigy. I think it’s the complexities, the irregularities of the rhythms and textures that make this truly unique.
I think the other key element here is that seeing Death Grips live drips the experience in a whole new palette of colour. Watching the sweat fly from every nook of Hill and Burnett’s faces is a catharsis in itself. The drumming, which sits somewhat behind the scenes in the recorded output, breaks to the fore on stage and takes its place as perhaps the most impressive component of the whole spectacle. When I listen to the powers that b, then, I inevitably retrace my steps to that torso-crunching, body-writhing tunnel of darkness. If you haven’t seen them yet, then I hate to be that party-pooper telling you what you’ve missed out on; but now that they’ve announced a world tour, perhaps you’ll get your chance after all.
The album’s second half, titled Jenny Death, is relentless. It begins without pausing for breath; no introductions, no gentle ease-ins. I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States is a sonic seizure, frenetic and overwhelming, and a fair summation of what follows. It’s less careful than its predecessor, but latches onto this punk sensibility that blows you out of the water and leaves your hair slung back in the wind. The collapse in the title track is phenomenal, roaring and bellowing as it swoops in and out of the pit. Beyond Alive is similarly excellent, bass surging through like a deep-water current.
the powers that b definitely feels somewhat indulgent. At eighteen tracks, only two of which slip beneath the three-minute mark, it leans back and luxuriates in itself. Unlike Exmilitary and The Money Store, I’m not left wanting more by the time I reach the end – I feel sated, a little exhausted. It’s a record to sift slowly into, an industrial monolith to dig at in sections with a tiny pickaxe. But for existing Grips fans, it’s a luxuriation that we’re more than happy to indulge in.
Words by Chloe Mayne.