I don’t like being told what to do. Unless it has to do with my overall well-being and tenacity, I am not someone who takes authority well. Thus, imagine when, randomly looking through the promo pile, Bellrope’s album name immediately caught my attention. At first, I thought of the title as a mere tongue-in-cheek reference; after all, what does an album know about my headspace at any given time? Well, as it would turn out, You Must Relax not only lives up to its tongue-in-cheek title, but its overall appeal lies within the chaotic yet claustrophobic mix of sludge and noise.
Opener “Hollywood 2001/Rollrost” is a mire of noise whose abundant cacophony sounds like what I imagine the gates of hell swinging open would sound like – nails on a chalkboard, incessant screaming or the soundtrack to a terrible migraine. The sound is foul, grimy, and unpleasant. This track is an intensely cold opener, one that aims to shock and, strangely enough, deter anyone from continuing on. However, if one withstands the punishing onslaught here, there is the sludgy pot of gold awaiting, just as promised. From “Old Overholt” onwards, the noise takes a backseat and to the way Bellrope emits their sludge. For one thing, it becomes progressively longer as the deep bass and harrowing vocals embed themselves into flesh and bone. Luckily, the musical sadism actually becomes enjoyable and I found myself humming along to both “Old Overholt” and “You Must Relax” as the groove of the music kept me interested to go back and listen to the album, repeatedly. The groove just lays like napalm, pulling itself across the threshold with its sheer intensity. It’s what kept me going while the music became more and more agonizing the deeper I went.
As the album continues, the songs get longer, with each becoming more agonizing than the last. The weight of it all tugs hard as if a battle between human and train took place – we all know how that would end. This feeling culminates on the final track “CBD/Hereinunder,” an almost 18-minute behemoth that’s dense with guitar riffing and distortion that, again, the sheer weight of it all threatens to crack a hole in the Earth and go straight to the planet’s center. Here, you can feel the psychedelic tones that has become a trademark for sludge as of late, creating an almost calming effect that, by now, is a welcome thing despite its repetitiveness. While it can be inferred that Bellrope recycles their riffs throughout the album, it actually works. You Must Relax is an album marked by its cyclical nature, one whose aim is to disorient. Losing sight of where one thing starts and where another ends might be the reason why there’s no getting comfortable with this album and no respite from its disorienting nature.
All in all, You Must Relax is an album that does not relax anything. The music is claustrophobic, chaotic yet groovy, and filled with enough density to sink a boat. If you can get past the first track, the rewards continually pile up. Its psychedelic overtones and sludgy nature warrants repeat listens just to see if, underneath it all, there is a redeeming quality to it. What you will find is, after all, hell is here and all the devils are hidden in that first track. Wake up and smell the noise in the air.