Released: 2016, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
After a long period of relative inactivity – save for the odd split 7” every now and again - grind provocateurs Agoraphobic Nosebleed (or ANb) seem intent to get back into more serious action. The band played their first-ever full live gigs last year and welcome 2016 by kicking off a series of EPs that will highlight each of the four members' distinct talents.
Arc showcases Katherine Katz, ex of Salome and one of ANb's three vocalists, and marks a 180-degree turn from the band's more familiar spastic, irreverent grind. Boasting just three tracks over its 27 minutes, Arc is more akin to the New Orleans-style drone-and-doom of Eyehategod, Crowbar or Down than the minute-long microbursts of ANb's 2002 cluster bomb Frozen Corpse Stuffed With Dope or the more fleshed-out but still furious Agorapocalypse from 2009.
Accompanied by the thick, layered, deliberate riffs of guitarist/band leader Scott Hull – also of Pig Destroyer, etc. - and his programmed drums that sound very much like the real thing, Katz tells the story of caring for her mother as she was dying from cancer in vivid detail. “Not A Daughter” and “Deathbed” are as poignant as they are cathartic with Katz's scream-and-snarl vocals capturing the grief, emptiness, anger and regret that come with losing a loved one.
"I am nobody, not a daughter, my face, empty, empty as your eyes when you asked me to end you," she hollers on “Not A Daughter,” an otherwise quite catchy, if lumbering, tune thanks to Hull's cascading hooks. “Deathbed,” as the title would indicate, is an even grimmer with its throbbing groove and Katz's more guttural delivery.
The nearly 12-minute “Gnaw” closes with EP with more of an industrial slant, its icy, mechanically precise riffing, rigid, martial pace and ample feedback and samples recalling vintage Ministry or Godflesh. Here, Katz details the schizophrenia that her mother also suffered from, and which made her care at the end even more difficult.
Arc really is all about Katz and her story, since fellow vocalists Jay Randall and Richard Johnson are seemingly nowhere to be found – neither providing abrasive harmonies nor juxtapositions. But with something as soul-baring and deeply personal as Arc, that's probably just as well. And if these EPs are meant almost as solo albums under the ANb banner, they'll each get their chance to chime in at length down the pike. Whether they will be as resonant and powerful as Arc, though, remains to be seen – or rather heard.