An interesting one, this; independent label Fuck Yoga have gotten their grubby mits on one of Noothgrush’s very first recordings – a self-recorded demo that was only ever released on a handful of cassettes – and are releasing it on limited edition CD and vinyl. Fans of the band will probably have heard bootlegs of this demo by now but for newcomers and collectors the vinyl looks too good to resist (check out the Fuck Yoga website below for more details). Indeed, it seems like Noothgrush have had a bit of a revival this year, first reforming for a handful of gigs, then having a compilation of radio sessions released on Southern Lord – their first widely released record. So this re-release is especially timely because it gives us a chance to see how the band developed from their early days, before the final and most well-known Noothgrush line-up formed.
Recorded shortly after forming in 1994, this self-titled demo features Noothgrush vets Chiyo and Gary along with Tom Choi (of Sleep-precursor Asbestos Death) on guitar and Luis DeVilla on second bass and moog. As a result the sound is significantly different from the band’s later, most well-known material. The pace is still cripplingly slow and the mood still depressing and full of contempt for life but there are more psychedelic moments and vocal melodies than in the band’s later work. Final track “8d8”, for example, is twenty brutal minutes of tortured, twisted riffs, guitar feedback, tape manipulation, samples, moog and general freak-outery.
The most striking thing about the record, however, is Gary’s clean, clear vocal style which, surprisingly, brings to mind Tool’s James Maynard Keenan on crushing opening track “Life Shatters into Pieces of Anguish”. Not only are the vocals clean but they are multi-layered and, dare I say, tuneful. Again, “Dungeon” is classic Noothgrush – an apprehensive intro of low rumbling bass followed by suspenseful distorted guitars, and tribal drums – but where Gary’s voice would normally be oppressive and guttural, here it’s more commanding, harmonising with itself for dramatic effect throughout most of the song. An early version of “Deterioration”, which would later feature on their only album Erode the Person, is also present here but in a shorter and more bombastic form. I’m sure many, many bands wish that their first demo was as accomplished and well-rounded as this document to damnation.
As is to be expected of a self-recorded demo which was handed out on cassettes, the sound quality isn’t that great (it certainly won’t please you audiophiles) but for me the gritty quality of the recordings acts like another instrument contributing to the general musical malaise. And regardless, the songs shine through on their own merit. The main thing that you will likely take away from this record is that Noothgrush had a clear vision of what they wanted to do from the start and quickly got to making some of the most underrated sludge and doom tracks ever made. With so much of the band’s recorded material out of print this is a welcome re-issue – let’s hope more of those elusive EPs get the same treatment soon.
Scribed by: Tom McKibbin