Review: ILS ‘Curse’

French director David Moreau helmed a great movie in the mid 2006 called ‘Ils’ – a thriller set around the premise of a young couple in a remote setting, fighting for their lives against a bunch of mysterious tormentors. I’ll not go further into the plot lest you take it upon yourself, dear reader, to see it. But I will tell you that it’s a fantastic film that exudes and sustains an air of menace and unease throughout.

ILS 'Curse'

ILS is now also the name of an equally fantastic band from Portland, whose debut album Curse appears on a French label, immediately making me wonder if the name is a knowing nod to that particular flick. They also exude an air of menace and unease in their music, though with a sense of release more consistent than the movie. They’re always working towards an explosive moment, but willing to take just the right amount of time to get there.

Stomping straight in with the huge drums that signal the opening of hostilities, Bad Parts is the kind of opener you want every album to have – a ballsy, flailing steamroller of a thing that seems designed to both induce head banging and feel like a clatter round the skull at the same time. When I say ‘huge’ drums it’s important I point out it’s not just the drums – the production sounds massive overall. Huge guitars. Huge throbbing bass. Frontman Tom Glose (re-emerging from the great Black Elk) sounds like he has the biggest lungs in the world. Guitarist Nate Abner was involved in the engineering and deserves just as much kudos for his recording skills as his playing.

Having set us up with a roaring entrance, Ils navigate the rest of the album a lot more subtly for a nominally ‘Noise-Rock’ band than you might expect. The title track follows immediately at a more initially laid back trot, Glose roaring about his ‘35 pounds of barbed wire’ like he’s reading out a recipe for an actual disaster over a big bass and drum groove, feeling as much like a subdued Clutch as it does the Am Rep archives. And by third track Don’t Hurt Me, while Glose opens with a sound like he’s impersonating some kind of human woodchipper spitting out a body that’s been shoved into it Mafia style, the band are playing with another mid paced groove and big catchy riff underneath, alternating with verses where a simple two note guitar line lets the drums and bass drive it all.

Have you enjoyed underground American heavy rock music of any form of the last 30 years? If so then for fuck’s sake, why aren’t you already ordering a copy of this record?

Ils are not entirely interested in simple bludgeon, that much is very clear. They’re aggressive, but tempered metallic and also working in a pretty traditional frame where decent song writing carries more weight than angularity. Glose moves accordingly from a sort of raised voice (not quite a shout, not quite normal speech) through to a hoarse roar to something not too far off a black metal shriek, depending on where the emphasis in his lyrics needs to land. 

Underneath his more extreme vocal approach, the rest of the band however strike a perfect midpoint between the kind of cut throat approach many of their underground peers, past and present, utilise and the more accessible heaviness that would have landed you on ‘120 Minutes’ 20 years ago. It’s an expert balancing act, never tipping too far into either territory, but maintaining breathing space in the music at all times. If you want percussive bass lines and ringing discordant guitars, you’ve got ’em in spades, but you’ve also got moments that feel almost grungey, again possibly because of that BIG production. Honestly, it’s like if Dave Jerden had produced Unsane at some points.

It’s Not Lard But It’s A Cyst is far catchier than any song with that title has any right whatsoever to be, recalling 90s post hardcore supergroup Handsome with a transforming werewolf on vocals. White Meat sees the rage reach boiling point with a rant against the rich, white superiority machine that underscores every aspect of American life over a whiplash inducing drive by the rest of the band. By the time we hit the home stretch on For The Shame I Brin,  you can almost picture the veins in Glose‘s reddening forehead bulge as we hit the heaviest point on the album to go out on, spiked with the occasional unexpected major chord to temper the violence.

Look, do you like riffs? Do you own records by both Melvins and bands on the Skin Graft label but wish there was some unexplored middle ground between the two? Have you enjoyed underground American heavy rock music of any form of the last 30 years? If so then for fuck’s sake, why aren’t you already ordering a copy of this record?

Label: POGO Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram

Scribed by: Jamie Grimes