Netherlands – Severance

Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist, Timo Ellis, is famous for his work as an audio engineer/producer and his friendship with Sean Lennon. Indeed, he played in American art rock band, Cibo Matto, with Lennon, but the group never achieved the sales or artistic potential to justify their deal with Warner Bros. Nowadays, you’re more likely to encounter Ellis through his Netherlands project, not least because Gojira’s Joe Duplantier cites the duo as his favourite contemporary artist. Now on their ninth release (and seventh album), the latest LP is an unusual record to emerge from the experimental doom label, Svart Records. What is the special substance in this music that inspires so much excitement in high-brow rock circles?

As a musical force, Netherlands have many faces. Opener, ‘Sicarrivallio’, aims to break through your chest with guitars that imitate distorted bass notes and slow drumbeats that crush you into submission. Car Bomb vocalist, Michael Dafferner, adds his iron lungs to the mix, but you wonder if Ellis had Chelsea Wolfe in mind when he composed this number. Imagine a noise rock band with an ear for Nitzer Ebb and a morbid sensibility designed to unnerve the music industry insiders and Wire magazine editors that ought to like Netherlands because they’re considered cool and edgy. And there is an edge to this music – a real one. This is not contrived. ‘Swimming Dog’ draws from New York underdogs (and major label casualties), Cop Shoot Cop, for inspiration. It’s never clear if Ellis had a bass or a guitar in his hands, but the noise effect is deafening, like Turnstile playing sludge metal with a determination to use the late 1990s production techniques of industrial trip-hop.

Spiky music like this stands out for its sophistication of noise. You could put ‘Omisha’ on a Death Grips album or a Porno for Pyros record, and both would benefit. The use of off-meter snare drums in the staccato riffing at the end should make all metalheads stand to attention, yet you can hear the drug-addled rave beats of the late 1990s (e.g., Bentley Rhythm Ace, Propellerheads) underneath the riotous assault. A menacing voice in the manner of Tommy Victor (Prong) appears on ‘Animal Insults’ as you try to align your instincts with the enthusiastic violence of the main lyric – “Animal liberation now!” At least the music matches the agitprop mindset of the hunt saboteur rather than the cosmopolitan New York vegan, whose only sacrifice is to stop buying leather shoes.

Netherlands don’t write choruses, but Ellis lends his falsetto range in places where you least expect to find them. ‘Silencio’ and ‘Celia’s Mansion’ dare to drop the heavier dynamics in favour of a dreamy pop texture that Ween fans will recognise. Of course, Turnstile are the obvious comparison here, having shown the mainstream what you can do when you stick to no rules or boundaries. ‘Blue Whale’ is the type of song that major labels would throw money at in the early-to-mid 90s when alternative rock exploded onto the scene and no company executives knew how to market it. It’s uncommercial and impulsive, yet it resonates with a spooky melody that stays lodged in your head. Sporadic death metal vocals only add to the menace and mystery.

There’s no reason why those with heavier tastes should dismiss Netherlands. They might be too unpredictable for their own good and liable to appeal to the Gorillaz fanbase as much as the Godflesh one, but this is art that refuses to be pigeonholed into any genre. In spirit, you could call it electro-punk, but in substance it’s experimental rock with a metallic edge.



Release Date: 31/03/2023

Record Label: Svart Records

Standout tracks: Sicarrivallio, Animal Insults, Silencio

Suggested Further Listening: Turnstile – Glow On (2021), Cop Shoot Cop – Ask Questions Later (1993), Death Grips – Bottomless Pit (2016)