Manipulator – Drawing Secret Circles

Can grindcore ever be a high-culture concern? It’s a strange question to ask about extreme metal’s most aggressive sub-genre, but New Yorker, Andrew Notsch, takes his art seriously. Drawing Secret Circles is the second album from the multi-instrumentalist under the Manipulator banner, and it comes with a video game, an accompanying art book, and a music video to cover the entire album. This may sound like a monumental undertaking of breathtaking multi-media ambition, but this is a grindcore record. Twenty songs spread over thirteen minutes does not require the same labour as a double LP from a progressive metal band. Nevertheless, Notsch presents us with two versions of the same recording – one split into twenty tracks and one as a longform composition.

It’s easier to think of Drawing Secret Circles like a cassette with the same album on Side A and Side B. The version split into twenty tracks is easier to follow for the purposes of a review, but you don’t need to remember any of the song titles (which, to be fair, can also be the case with long-form prog metal like Between the Buried and Me). Opener, ‘Annihilated Prestige’ is Strapping Young Lad with mechanised blast beats and death metal screams that sometimes assume a dalek mode of extermination. The power generator in an abandoned slaughterhouse might sound as hostile if you turned it on after ten years of no activity. ‘Tangled Insides’ is much easier to remember. Here, the chunky riffs punch with knuckle-dusters before the tremolo rhythms at the end induce the panic of being thrown out of an aeroplane.

It’s easy to be baffled by an album where the amount of film dialogue outweighs the lyrical content. Or so it seems until you realise that Notsch asked Tim Bradley (This Is the Last Time) to compose the lyrics and orchestrate the samples so they sound like dialogue. The title-track is the best example of this approach. Dissonant death metal riffs and programmed blast beats threaten you like a buzz saw in the hands of a curious child. Likewise, the screams on ‘Dumbed Down to Worship’ reverberate like the agonised cries of a man with his ball sack at the end of a nail gun. It helps you prepare for the Anaal Nathrakh/Benighted mangling machine of ‘The Mask You’ve Made’ with higher tolerance levels.

Of course, you’ll question the point of songs like ‘Darkness Derides You’ and ‘No This Won’t End (Pt. III)’. These total nine seconds as consecutive blasts of noise at tracks ten and eleven. It takes you longer to blow your nose with a half-hearted sniff of your nostrils. By contrast, the double-assault of ‘Rabbit (1st Offering)’ and ‘Rabbit (2nd Offering)’ take the berserk violence to a threshold beyond human comprehension. Now, you can appreciate the music as you would a Pig Destroyer album. “If you don’t say what you think, what do you really fucking believe? / Still pumping gas into a lifeless fucking shell,” roars Notsch on ‘Unleaded’.

As a segregated piece chopped into twenty songs, Drawing Secret Circles has more in common with the avant-grind experimentation of the debut Fantômas LP. Play the continuous version and the experience is a lot different. Then you can smear the blood on your chest as you try to scream with a lacerated windpipe. This is violence as an abandonment of martial honour. It will never be high art, but it makes for an amusing way to pass thirteen minutes of your day when boredom grinds you down.



Release Date: 03/11/2023

Record Label: Wise Grinds Records / Here Is Nowhere Records / Dead Red Queen Records / Psychocontrol Records

Standout tracks: Tangled Insides; Dumbed Down to Worship; Prestige: Annihilated

Suggested Further Listening: Socioclast – Socioclast (2021), Brutal Truth – Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses (1992), Suffering Quota – Collide (2023)