Noothgrush‘s discography reads a bit like a defragging hard drive – so many little pieces (demos, EPs, split releases, an album, a few live records and a compilation or two scattered across a timeline) ultimately coming together to make up the whole picture of an influential doom band from the highly fertile Bay Area of the early-to-mid nineties. Noothgrush existed in the truly DIY era, an era in which, as drummer Chiyo Nukaga puts it, “we just kept getting proposals for splits with our friends’ bands by our friends’ labels.” This is an ethos that rings true for a whole host of now-influential underground bands as you look through their back catalogues, but for someone who wasn’t there at the time, it can be difficult (and expensive) to both keep track of and own so many classic releases spread across countless seven inches and flexi-discs (remember those?).
As it happens, I first came to hear Noothgrush‘s music when Southern Lord issued the Live for Nothing compilation in 2011, which means that I was very, very late to the party. By that point the band had been defunct for about a decade and while in retrospect their influence could be clearly heard in many of the current bands of the day, at that point their legend paled in comparison to some of their contemporaries who had either continued into the successive decades or gone on to form other successful bands. Bands like Sleep, Neurosis, Grief, EyeHateGod and the Melvins. Noothgrush’s sound is a snarly combination of nihilistic hardcore attitude and toxic, thick-as-molasses sludge generally played at a snail’s pace and always espousing a bleak, miserablist outlook on life (when not singing about Star Wars). If you throw a stone in your local doom or sludge scene you’ll hit a band that apes Noothgrush in some way, either directly or by-way of a band that Noothgrush influenced.
After a decade of inactivity, Noothgrush got back together in 2011 to play some shows in support of the release of a number of upcoming reissues (including the aforementioned live album) before surprising us all with the release of a split EP with Japan’s death/doom metal maniacs Coffins in 2013. This marked the first new recording from the band in over a decade – the original trio of Gary Niederhoff, Chiyo Nukaga and Russ Kent now joined by Asunder’s Dino Sommese on vocals. So with the band seemingly active again, Erode the Person: Anthology 1997-1998 is a timely reissue of a compilation that was originally released by Throne Records in 2006, compiling Noothgrush‘s only album, Erode the Person, and a handful of their best contributions to splits, compilations and abandoned releases between 1997 and 1998. That means we get to hear such gems as Hatred For The Species and Draize from their split with Corrupted alongside oddities such as the ten-second long Strawberry Shortcake And Friends Holding Hands And Going Around The Gazebo With Custard And Pupcake Watching taken from a 7” compilation (you read that correctly) released by the influential Slap a Ham Records in 1998.
But at the centre of this compilation is Erode The Person, an album so densely packed with riffs and abject misery that by the time the closing title track rolls to its eleven-minute conclusion you genuinely feel like a little part of your soul has dissolved forever. In between the twin epics Erode The Person and Deterioration, there’s the incredible Oil Removed which condenses the drawn out suffering of the former into a short dynamic burst of EyeHateGod-esque grooves. Elsewhere opening track Stagnance finds Niederhoff sounding-off like a modern-day Darwin, lamenting the lack of evolution of the human race, his anguish mirrored in Kent’s tortured guitar riff. Sadly, the band’s take on the second part of Pink Floyd’s The Narrow Way is notably missing from the tracklisting, presumably for legal reasons, which is a shame because it’s a riff that was crying out for the Noothgrush treatment. However in spite of this, the album loses little of its original corrosive power and the additional material more than makes up for it.
Listening to Noothgrush‘s nineties output now shows you how far ahead of their time they were. In many ways it also demonstrates how little the genre has advanced in nearly twenty years with so many current bands relying on the formula that Noothgrush and their contemporaries laid down back in the day. All this to say that the songs on Erode The Person: Anthology 1997-1998 still sound remarkably fresh today, and as a compilation this is as perfect a starting point for those hoping to get into Noothgrush as one could hope for. Hell, the inclusion of tracks from long out-of-print splits make this collection worth the price of admission alone. Who knows if Noothgrush will produce another album at this point, but as Chiyo says, it may just be a matter of time before a friends’ band proposes another split. Here’s hoping.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin