I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: grindcore is going through an absolute renaissance right now, and it’s all thanks to bands that are taking the familiar trappings of the genre and turning them completely on their head. What better way to mix up the grindcore formula, one that is already all about creating as much sonic distress as possible in the shortest amount of time, and throw in odd meters, angular and jarring chords and wildly chaotic riffs, and you get Pupil Slicer and their debut full-length Mirrors, which provides just the breath of fresh air needed.
Pupil Slicer are relative newcomers on the scene, with only a split EP with Sense Offender to their name until now, but you would think that they were veterans from the sheer caliber of their vision and its execution. It’s not so outside the box to think that mixing grindcore with math elements would work, but there’s a fine line that has to be drawn between what works musically and what is just noise for its own sake (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s definitely not the intention here). The way that Pupil Slicer mix the two together is not only innovative and highly musical, but it is executed flawlessly, thanks in no small part to the raw talent that the trio throw down with. Guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Kate Davies barrels through furious riff after furious riff, punctuating savage growls with anxiety-inducing panic chords and angular, atonal note sequences, while drummer Josh Andrews effortlessly facilitates the shifting meters, tempos and signatures without seeming to ever tire, and bassist/vocalist Luke Fabian holds down the low end while showing off some impressive, almost jazz-like chops in the brief but memorable breaks in the madness. It’s actually these breaks that take this album from good grindcore to great music in general. The songwriting is so smart and so polished, and the band knows exactly when to slam the pedal to the metal and when to let a moment breathe. For all the technicality and ferocity, there is also a lot of beauty and melodicism that makes Mirrors one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard in a long time.
Much of the lyrical content on Mirrors deals with Davies’ struggles with depression, social anxiety and abuse, as well as social injustice and oppression that ring out universally. It’s immediately apparent that these songs are intensely personal works and represent a form of catharsis for the threesome, especially Davies. Her wild and frantic guitar playing coupled with her agonized shrieks seethe with rage and frustration, and it cuts to the core when you listen to it. It’s more than just dazzling technicality: you feel an awful lot when you listen to Mirrors. “Wounds Upon My Skin” was the single that sold me on this album, because of its smart mix of brutality and raw emotion. The interplay between Davies and Fabian, especially when the intensity is dialed back, shows just how in sync they are. Equally memorable is “L’Appel du Vide,” with its frantic energy and chaotic drums. It’s the first track on the album where the mask really comes off and the mathcore components become super prominent. But, again, there is also another side to these songs, one of beauty and refined melodic sensibility that comes in between bouts of spastic chaos. “Interlocutor” and “Collective Unconscious” both showcase a more ethereal sense of songwriting, with the latter closing the album out with a beautiful wash of ringing chords that fade into tortured sobs and then silence. A fittingly emotional end to an album that is an almost nonstop rollercoaster of tempos, riffs, textures and emotions.
The first couple of times I even tried to write about Mirrors, I couldn’t do it. I was literally left speechless listening to the tracks. This is an album that pummeled me into a pulp in the best way possible, and even now I have to sit and wonder if what I wrote is even doing it any justice. It’s an easy AOTY contender for me, and no matter what else gets put out this year, the sheer impact it’s left on me means this won’t be close to the last time you hear me talk about this album or this band.