Chicago experimentalists, Anatomy of Habit, released their acclaimed debut, Ciphers + Axioms, in 2014 via Relapse Records but went into hibernation soon after. This may be due to the busy schedule of vocalist, Mark Solotroff, who released a solo album in July this year as well as new LPs with dark-synth group, Nightmares, in early 2020, and the first album in over a quarter of a century with his post-industrial collective, Ensemble Sacrés Garçons. You might think the latest Anatomy of Habit record is an EP at first glance, but that would be misleading. Even if it Takes a Lifetime contains only three songs, but the total running time is forty minutes, and your patience requires virtuous understanding to get the most out of the listening experience.
Opener, ‘A Marginal World’, is a short composition by Anatomy of Habit’s standards at six minutes and thirty-nine seconds, and it’s also the standout song on the album. The brutal palm-muted staccato chords at the beginning suggest we might be in for a sonic annihilation worthy of Blindfolded and Led to the Woods, but Solotroff’s anxious baritone voice steals the focus away from guitar and drums with a simple but effective two-note vocal pattern. It will remind you of Ian Curtis from Joy Division’s masterful ‘Day of the Lords’ in the way the frontman sounds like he’s observing the world crumbling around him. The unsettling metal percussion of Isidro Reyes and patient drum work of Skyler Rowe keep the song anchored in a ritualistic circular groove ideal for Alex Latus to layer the channels with his noisy electric chord slashes. You’ll nod your head in approval at the way they reach a final eruption of cinematic doom metal towards the end. This is what you wanted Editors and Interpol to sound like when you first heard them back in 2004 – heavy, distorted, coated in noise, and foreboding. Anatomy of Habit show that post-punk need not be mired in weak jangly guitars and sparse electronics in the age of post-metal.
‘Your Pure Breath’ is closer to drone metal in its minimalist purpose and sophistication. At fourteen minutes in length, it will work better in a live environment than it does here. The distant keyboard drones of the first two minutes set the mood but also highlight the main problem of this record – Solotroff’s monotonous two-note vocal lines are the same throughout. You soon learn to ignore the lyrics to stay focused on the intricate layering of guitars and analogue synth. There’s enough to merit a positive response to the music in the way they work towards a feedback-heavy doom dirge and explore the noise rock mechanics of Slint. It might even remind you of the brutal no wave subjugation of Swans’ ugly Cop album from 1984.They could end it at eleven minutes but decide to prolong it with an extra three minutes of brooding guitars over a slow bass beat.
Closing track, ‘Now We Finally Know Ourselves’, is the most challenging inclusion on the album but will be the most rewarding to long-time fans of the band. Here, they dig into their Tangerine Dream records for ambient inspiration. The first three minutes saunter along in a floating haze of quiet guitar noodling and sporadic background effects until the overcooked fuzz guitars enter the fray. Again, Skyler Rowe’s intricate drum work provides the maudlin anxiety with a variety of tom drum rhythms and snare shuffles. Getting to the eleven minute-mark is easy, but you’ll wonder how they can justify another eight minutes. Thankfully, Anatomy of Habit’s collective goal of working towards a heavy explosion finds its purpose in a climactic post-metal grind in the final third of the song. Sam Wagster’s clever bass phrasing follows Solotroff’s vocal lines in the aftermath, but it’s too late to extricate the latter’s voice patterns from the gnawing tedium that defines them for most of this record.
Even if It Takes a Lifetime is a throbbing audio experience shrouded in cloudy electronic frequencies and harsh guitars. It might be unrelenting, but it deserves your time and patience.
Release Date: 10/12/2021
Record Label: Self-released
Standout track: A Marginal World
Suggested Further Listening: Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979), Christ the Bait – Idolatrosities EP (2021), Swans – Cop (1984)