You eat with your eyes first, as they say. I believe this applies to listening as well. Good album art sets the tone for what you’re about to get yourself into. Hell, even “bad” album art can be appreciated, as Dan Kaplan’s monthly gallery wall so perfectly shines a light on. When you take a look at the cover art for Sickness in the North, I believe that you get…some idea of what you’re in for. Birdflesh have always been known for their irreverence and bizarre sense of aesthetics, but it seems to be working for them after all these years.
Grindcore is in something of a renaissance right now. Bands like Cloud Rat, Wake and Full of Hell are bent on pushing the genre to its absolute limits, and even older acts like Wormrot and Pig Destroyer are branching out into new and uncharted territory. But where, o’ reader, is the love for the less sophisticated side of grind? The kind that knows its place in levity, that knows a song under thirty seconds has as much a right to be lush with poop jokes as it is with ethereal melody. That is where Birdflesh comes in. For almost thirty years, they have been holding down the goofier side of grindcore with a healthy foundation of thrash and a hefty amount of yuck. With a truly impressive discography behind them, the Swedish trio don’t really do anything to rock the boat or push themselves in new directions, but I don’t really think that’s the point. Birdflesh do one thing, and they do it really well, as exemplified by their healthy amount of splits and appearances at festivals all over the world. There is no need for them to switch lanes.
Right off the bat, my first impressions of Sickness in the North is that it is a really fun album to listen to. While I love music that is moving and sincere, I firmly believe there is a level of refusing to take oneself seriously that brings out some goddamn enjoyable music. Birdflesh hit that right on the head. The riffs on these songs, as short as they are, are impactful; grounded in thrash but wild and full of that reckless grindcore abandon when they need to be. The fact that all three members take turns grunting, howling and growling their way through the 23 cuts (the longest of which is a scant two minutes) allows the fast-paced frenzy to drive these songs like Sandra Bullock (NAME THAT REFERENCE!). It may not be anything new or inventive, but it’s as solid as solid gets, and it lays the foundation for the insane, vaguely South Park-esque level of humor that the lyrics get into. “Funeral Orgy,” “Chainsaw Frenzy” (which features an actual chainsaw on the track), “Balcony Piss” and “Lavatory Sickness” are just some of the deep, philosophical topics touched on in the depths of Sickness. Perhaps some of the subject matter goes a little too far for 2023, but the intention behind it is to be over the top; Birdflesh know their brand, and if they’re not pushing it just a little bit then they’re not being true to themselves. It’s all in the name of a chuckle at the end of the day.
Perhaps it’s not going to top my year end list, but Sickness in the North hits really nicely, at a time when I needed my metal to be soaked in levity. This album is a ton of fun to listen to. Despite the grim, frozen appearance, this is, by all rights, the exact opposite. It definitely has the potential to be a party album, depending on the crowd and whether you think they’ll really enjoy it or whether you need to get them out of your house ASAP.
Sickness in the North is available now on Everlasting Spew. For more information on Birdflesh, visit their Facebook page.