Degenerator – The Abyssal Throne


Canadian duo, Degenerator, bonded over a love of the early Smashing Pumpkins records and a mutual admiration for gothic rock. As veterans of the Edmonton rock and metal scenes, Barrett Klesko (All Else Fails) and Jonathan Webster (ex-Striker) want to make alternative rock heavy once again and rescue it from its post-grunge malaise. That’s an uphill task for any band hoping to wade into a rock arena that often feels like a graveyard for artists with no purpose. Fortunately, Degenerator did not read the brief for modern rock bands and decided to cake their music in abrasive noise and perilous amp fuzz. The Abyssal Throne is a reminder that this type of music can be as filthy as a water tank.

Klesko created Degenerator to satisfy the restless urges building up inside his head over the last few years. These urges called him to maximum overdrive guitars and bowel-shaking bass frequencies. Opener, ‘Eternalism’, starts in mono sound to announce the shape of the riff in the first twelve bars before the stereo settings surround you and let the noise flow. You’ll pout your lips and raise your eyebrows with a nod of the head and then gasp when the duo reset for the first verse after establishing a momentum. It could be a dream rock song with soothing vocals if not for the growling bass guitar lines. Klesko’s salacious goth voice adds a different shade of anxiety to the music before he steps on the distortion again, like Cave-In during their major label era. Listen carefully – there’s a subtle technicality to this music, especially the intricate guitar sequencing hidden among the menacing vibrations.

Only after the first three tracks do you wonder if Klesko trusts the strength of his singing voice over the top of the noise smoking from his amps. Grungy guitar distortion adds muscle to the abstract arpeggios of ‘Finality’ as the drummer feels his way into the mood of the song. Degenerator show here that they can find a groove in their introverted musical approach. A thick wall of noise permeates through the fuzzy melodies like torchlight in a morning mist. The guitar tone is straight from the rehearsal room with a dry plug-in on ‘The Day That Never Comes’. You can’t accuse this band of manipulating their sound at the digital mixing desk.

Fuzzy rock guitars and goth vocal lines make for an unusual combination, and they often save these songs from a stoner rock lethargy when you’re ready to press the skip button. ‘Neurotonic’ would be a bland reminiscence of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club if not for the captivating effect of Klesko’s drowsy voice projections. It’s debatable whether the heavy amp gain and fuzzy chord vibrations in ‘Darkness Prevails’ are too heavy for Degenerator’s singer to handle. Like Katatonia, there’s no way Klesko can make his voice project the chorus on a live stage using this type of snarled baritone style.

The room to manoeuvre in rock music comes with too many restrictions, not least the genre’s obsession with subverting the blues and honouring the legacy of punk. Klesko approaches ‘Hiraeth’ like a storyteller remembering dark times. “If it’s all for nothing, then nothing really matters anyway,” he laments. A creeping sense of slacker nihilism nags at the back of your mind every time you hear a fuzz riff. Fortunately, the ugly bass fretting and delay-heavy guitars kill off any chance of a pristine radio rock outcome in ‘The Spiral’. The chorus is too sedate to deliver a meaningful repetition point, but the playful neo-jazz of the middle eight offers a pleasant surprise and leads into a flurry of blasts beats and roaring fry screams. This is more like it.

Why do most rock bands want to correct history and go back to 1999 when the spectre of grunge still haunted mainstream guitar music and hindered its evolution? Degenerator have the benefit of hindsight to see where the innocuous successors to Soundgarden, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam went wrong, and they do a competent job of trying to rehabilitate the reputation of rock for those with heavier music tastes. A rare injection of masculine vocals in ‘Heart Like a Hole’ reminds you that guitars as loud as these need a powerful throat to bring them to life.

The Abyssal Throne asks you to close your eyes and absorb its blurry textures for meditational effect, yet it leaves you shortchanged by an inability to take you to the next level of consciousness. Degenerator know what they want to achieve, but your expectations might not align with their codes.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 24/11/2023

Record Label: Self-released

Standout tracks: Eternalism, Finality, The Spiral

Suggested Further Listening: The Hyena Kill – A Disconnect (2021), Cave-In – Heavy Pendulum (2022), Jaww – Supercluster (2023)