by Dan Manning (@mandanning)
Below The House opens with a squeal of feedback, a few light brushes across a cymbal, and a sudden smack in the face, like some sort demonic plainsong. The opening track to Planning For Burial’s latest is one of the heaviest pieces Thom Wasluck has churned out to date. A strange but powerful opening statement on what is probably his most accessible and concise record.
The drums on “Whiskey & Wine” push the song forward with a nervous energy, sounding as if they are not quite tied down to a metronome but rather to the expulsion of anger and emotion from the person behind the kit. This does not mean the recording is sloppy by any means; the waves of twisted guitars are stacked atop one another with meticulous precision, pulling back and lashing out at just the right moments. Dig deeper behind the noise and you will find subtle flares of instrumentation that add just the right touch to each track, whether it be the bells and keys in the opener or the slide-guitar on album centerpiece “Dull Knife.”
One of the most straightforward tracks on Below The House is “Warmth of You,” a melodic, well-structured piece that is really one of very few Planning For Burial “songs.” It has what could even be understood as a chorus, a true rarity across the project’s discography. This is a trend throughout the first half of the album; the songs are less about building on loops and bombarding the listener with increasingly powerful waves of noise. Instead, they build and collapse, flowing back and forth with more structure than before.
This structure doesn’t stick around for long though, as “Warmth of You” is followed by two eerie, synth-heavy soundscapes. These two tracks provide a bit of a recollection before “Dull Knife,” the near 17-minute centerpiece of the record that is split into two parts. Within those 17 minutes you will find examples of everything that Planning For Burial does best. Pt. I opens with a pounding drumbeat and slide-guitar lead lines that push their way out of the haze of distortion. It’s a familiar sound at this point in the record, but not an overdone one.
The aural assault lets up ever so gently as the track begins to decompose, fading away into waves of ambient synths and echoing acoustic guitars to usher in the beginning of Pt. II. The second half is a true burner, driven by a hypnotic, pulsing kick-drum and chugging guitar. Here Wasluck’s voice is the driving force, repeating the line “call me back home” as he slowly pushes the song forward, increasing tension as he goes. The crescendo builds and builds until Wasluck lets out a shout of anguish in the distance, ushering in the closing moments of “Dull Knife.” It is a surprisingly gentle conclusion to such a powerful piece.
With a few notable exceptions, Wasluck himself doesn’t say much throughout the record, and he doesn’t really need to. Each song has a particular emotional energy crafted by the haunting, melodic guitar lines. All Wasluck has to do is float in and out as he sees fit. His compositions do all the heavy lifting for him, allowing him to speak freely and say what he needs to. On the record’s closer he mumbles almost manically behind droning bass and synth, layering his voice and repeating himself over and over to match the slowly entrancing repetition of the instruments.
This hypnotic feeling is key to why Wasluck is so good at what he does. Even though the songs on Below The House are more traditionally structured than his previous works, they are consuming in the same way. Slow, entrancing repetition paired with a complete emotional and sonic assault make Below The House a powerful, unique record.