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Elizabeth Colour Wheel - "Nocebo" | Album Review

elizabeth colour wheel cover.jpg

by Morgan Greenwood (@totemmotet)

For a release that maybe could be loosely defined as “black-metal,” the first LP by Boston-based Elizabeth Colour Wheel starts with a moment all-too peaceful—just a guitar, in a room, soon joined by a crooning solo voice. Then, the floodgates open, not into violence as one might expect, but into a triumphant wash of strings, backing vocals, drums, and a certifiable wall of guitar. We get a momentary reprise of the solo guitar before it is interrupted by feedback and, on a dime, the onslaught begins. The next three minutes of opener “Pink Palm” chug along at breakneck pace, over time gaining momentum and density. A blastbeat does occur, but comes in a solid four minutes in, serving as a compositional tool for intensity instead of being an obligatory matter-of-course. 

Immediately following the end of “Pink Palm,” we’re treated to a two-and-a-half minute ambient track filled with pink noise, distant bells, and heavily manipulated vocals. Tracks vaguely like this occur on other records, but oftentimes they are four times as short and as such, instead of having an identity of their own, serve only as filler. This is not at all the case here. Here it serves as a kind of distant reprieve to the assault and has sufficient heft to have an identity of its own.

There are low points of intensity (in terms of metal), but that is not to say that Nocebo is a light, easygoing affair. Quite the contrary, the up-and-down dynamic and flashes of other genres (there’s elements of post-rock, ambient, chamber music, shoegaze, and even gamelan-like tones on “Life of a Flower”) serve to make this record an exhausting and fulfilling experience. 

And it’s dark. Very dark. Nocebo, the word, means “a detrimental effect on health produced by psychological or psychosomatic factors such as negative expectations of treatment or prognosis.” In addition, the album was inspired heavily by anxiety, “the fear and the desire of being constantly overwhelmed. “ Listening to it, you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next. The first few minutes of the record have already taught to expect that anything can happen, anytime. And it does. One of the most harrowing listening experiences I can remember is “Hide Behind (Emmett’s Song)” only to be followed by a track that would fit right at home on a Grouper record.

Despite being so eclectic, the record is very cohesive and nothing is out of place. Nocebo toes that line perfectly. Being that the record is being released by The Flenser, the record label that houses Planning for Burial, Have a Nice Life, Drowse, Giles Corey, and Kayo Dot—all “dark” acts that use genre in their work but never, themselves, conform to one—this makes sense. An exciting first LP.