Scream Blast Repeat called Anatomy of Habit’s last album ‘a throbbing audio experience shrouded in cloudy electronic frequencies and harsh guitars.’ We also noted that ‘it might be unrelenting, but it deserves your time and patience.’ Led by vocalist Mark Solotroff since their founding in 2008, the Chicago group now has a stable line-up ready to release the sequel to 2021’s Even if It Takes a Lifetime. Like its predecessor, Black Openings comprises three long-form compositions totalling over thirty-five minutes. But this effort is quieter and more reflective and less enamoured with drastic dynamic shifts.
Anatomy of Habit were once a client of Relapse Records, but those of you hoping for the post-metal fury of Neurosis will need to dig deep for satisfaction. The eighteen-minute title track – eighteen minutes! – is a triumph of ambient concoctions and gradual layering, and it proves that the quintet’s greatest asset is their ability to coordinate a shared vision for their art. Let the song guide you and you’ll encounter no hiccups along the way. The simple open-note bass sequence allows a luscious guitar chord to bend in between the sporadic cymbal accents of Skyler Rowe and the intricate percussion chimes of Isidro Reyes. A respectful kick drum ramps up the tension before the first snare hit and vocals enter the mix. “Sleep does nothing/ Enveloped in fantasy/ Spreading outward/ A form of release,” intones Solotroff in his deepest projection off voice. The tempo is slow, but the percussion is frantic. You won’t notice the intrusion of Alex Latus’ distorted guitar noise at the six-minute mark. How clever that this wall of electricity can embed itself into the mix without spoiling the introspective mood. The attention to detail and gradual layering of additional instruments is most impressive.
It’s clear the band wanted to structure the title track into three parts with an ambient middle section and a crushing climax of discordant doom metal. They succeed in communicating this demarcation to the listener, but four minutes of non-repeating pedal loop ambience and irregular tom drum accents at 09:30 will test your patience. But you’ll have less reason to fidget if you stream this section on a countryside walk. Then you can appreciate the loud dynamic climax for the last three minutes, where all instruments let loose like untethered bulls in an open field. Imagine M. Gira of Swans fronting a doom metal band in the mindset of a noise rock artist. Exhilaration replaces the exhaustion you anticipated before pressing play on this track.
The easiest comparison for this music is Joy Division, but that’s because Solotroff has an identical voice to Ian Curtis. Let’s be clear: the music does not sound like the Manchester greats. ‘Formal Consequences’ shows a poignant ear for conventional melody among the rubble of post-rock musing and anxious sorrow. No post-punk band from the early 1980s thought it possible to create the alternate chugging riffs that emerge here at 03:30. Now, we’re in post-metal territory, including the peaks and troughs that come with the paranoia of the genre. There’s a psychotic element to this music in the way the guitar overdrive and bass distortion creep up on you at your most vulnerable.
Closing track, ‘Breathing Through Bones’, is the one song that lets you follow the lyrics without distraction. “In silence I remain here/ Breathing through bones/ Rejoining the body/ That we once occupied.” No multi-layered convergences demand your attention. You can let the ambient guitar effects wash over you as Solotroff injects a new anguish into his voice. It doesn’t feel like doom metal when the guitars come to life. That’s because they seldom fret the power chords. Skyler Rowe’s dramatic snare gallop for the last two minutes adds to the angst. The unrelenting release of anger at the end feels like a triumph for artist and listener alike after a period of shared stasis.
Anatomy of Habit expect you to follow them into the tumult of life. The most challenging exigencies often feel insurmountable, and the Chicago quintet are not here to sugar-coat things. They’re happy to take you into the unconscious darkness in your mind. You’ll find it hard to say no.
Release Date: 24/02/2023
Record Label: Self Released
Standout track: Black Opening
Suggested Further Listening: Phal:Angst – Whiteout (2023), Swans – My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky (2010), Slain Thought – A Failed Exorcism EP (2022)