A couple of years ago less than hundred people were collected in Manchester’s Ruby Lounge (plenty of elbow space) to see New York noise merchants A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS for short). They played about an hour, finishing with the epic ‘I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart’. A sweaty, pounding hour in a dark room with the only light blinking from the venue’s dinky green laser. The song breaks down in the middle to a tinny clatter of drums. Supremo and guitar shaman Oliver Ackermann disappears. The bass player downs a pint. Which is of course the best way to impress the English. Ackermann scampers back with a strobe machine as what little light there is diminishes. He sets if off and proudly holds it aloft like the head of a fallen enemy before placing it between his feet to resume playing. He tears into his battered guitar as bass and drums follow in his wake. The strobe effect gets faster and faster, burning my eyes. The guitar unleashes a screeeeeeeee of torture. Strobes and noise collide and speed up in harmony. My brain seems to be faltering, stuttering as the world is stuck like the needle on a record. Time itself is rending out of shape. Existence itself is being fractured into shards. My mind attempts to break free from my body. Then, in the nick of time it is over. Out of grattitude for the experience I buy a T shirt.
APTBS are the self-styled ‘Loudest band in New York’, a description so perfect a review almost becomes redundant. The aforementioned Oliver Ackermann is a designer of effects pedals via his company Death By Audio. Clearly he keeps the best for himself. Exploding Head is their second album and so far, the best of the three (the others being a self titled debut and Worship).
The approach is less of a wall of noise, more of a nuclear warhead of noise. It is worth pointing out that their music needs to be played at maximum volume, it simply does not work at anything less. It is sculpted with the precise aim of operating at the fringe of what you ears can cope with. The band’s influence is, obviously the like of The Jesus & March Chain and My Bloody Valentine. The fingerprints of shoeagze are all over their music. However, they forego the dreamy aspects in favour of an unrelenting attack on the senses.
When most people talk of aggressive guitar they say “heavy”. The term simply doesn’t fit here though. This is guitar music as intense and provocative as gets. but heavy it is not. Sharp would be a better term. It punctures the skin, sparks like fireworks and sheens like a reflection of the desert sun. All this is underpinned by a mechanical, granite bass. Exploding Head is a sensation akin to plugging yourself into the national grid.
But it needs stressing that this isn’t random noise purely for the sake of it. These are songs constructed with noise, not for noise. ‘Keep Slipping Away’ is a tour de force of hard-edged angst; fluid bass, quicksilver cascades from the guitar, drums as taught and keen as anguish itself and maybe Ackermann’s best lyrics. ‘I Lived My Life To Stand In The Shadow Of Your Heart’ may be the standout, the sound of band locking into a groove and going to war. Dramatic, exciting, powerful and nerve shredding it brings the album to a glorious, punch drunk ending.
Maybe the best compliment to pay that while Exploding Head is spinning you are overcome with the feeling that all the other guitar bands on the planet aren’t trying hard enough. Utterly essential for any psych collection, Exploding Head is literally breathtaking.
SEARCH IT: A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, ‘KEEP SLIPPING AWAY’