*** Go to our YouTube channel in the link below to see the video review of this record in episode #46 of the SBR Album of the Week.
A glance through an Oxx album review will always include the words “insanity” and “chaos”. It’s true that their approach to music is like an eviscerating audio expression of the controversial Viennese Actionism movement of the 1960s. You don’t finish an Oxx record with a smile on your face. Instead, you ask what just happened, and you wonder if it was legal. Formed in Aarhus in 2012, the Danish trio are now on their fourth LP and have a new bassist, and it’s no surprise that their latest artistic product is as mind-boggling as ever. The Primordial Blues might be somewhat of a misleading title for a band with hardcore origins who play their instruments with the liberty of jazz musicians. Describing what Oxx do is like finding historical written sources from the immediate post-Roman era of the British Isles in the early fifth century – it’s impossible.
Apparently, the lyrics to The Primordial Blues came into creation from snippets of novels, stream of consciousness improvisations, and cut and paste ideas from a wide range of literary sources. This is also a good way of understanding the incongruent violence of the band’s music. Opener, ‘The Coast’, starts with jazz piano chords and challenges drummer, Martin Aagaard Jensen, to think of the most incompatible snare action to go with the soothing intervals. He does this with great enthusiasm as if warming up for a punk song. Growling bass notes add even more defilement to the mix before vocalist and guitarist, Alex Bossen, steps on the sludgy distortion and unleashes the wrath of his gory exhalation voice under a spell of noisy chord changes. You might be under the illusion that this is something you can follow until Bossen throws in the most unexpected guitar fills in between the chugging rhythms. These often shred through the diminished scales like Allan Holdsworth in his prime. How the trio can maintain such a ferocious level of aggression while putting their brains through rhythmic equations of this complexity is beyond belief.
It’s easy to be dazzled by music that sets no boundaries in its objective to be as heavy as possible. ‘The Song of the Rivers’ is what Fugazi’s End Hits album might have sounded like if they had the jazz chops of Besson and Aagaard Jensen. Only one thing will begin to weigh on you – could Besson’s monotone death metal growls be more animated. Then you realise that he plays guitar and handles microphone duties at the same time. This alone is a triumph of the impossible. When was the last time you saw the singer of a mathcore band with a guitar around his neck? Even the members of Gorguts would flinch at the advanced experimentation of ‘The Fishing Village’. Aagaard Jensen appears to create an Afrobeat with the menace of an industrial repetition for the main pulse of this song as Bossen stabs away at his instrument in staccato formation and slips in as many jazz fusion fills as he can muster. A distorted bass guitar holds the edifice together like scaffolding in ‘The Lake and Everything Around It’. It sounds so spontaneous and improvised, but the science behind it is too rigorous to be impulsive. The reset to a sequence of semi-distorted arpeggios at 03:37 is one of the few moments when a conventional melody emerges. Your brain will seize upon it like oxygen.
Of course, thirty-eight minutes of mathematical avant-garde metal can be exhausting. The Primordial Blues is not an album you can digest on a walk to the train station or as background music while you concentrate on other tasks. ‘The Haruspex’ recognises that we all have finite stamina levels and allows you a breather after two minutes and fifteen seconds of pandemonium with a rumbling bass breakdown. Aagaard Jensen has the thankless task of keeping up with Bossen’s impatient guitar diversions on ‘The Flagellant’. He abandons this quest at 01:15 and creates his own sideshow of skank beats and jazz rolls as if ignoring the guitars. It’s understandable if you feel dizzy at the end of it all.
Your eyes will narrow into a frown when you see the running time of nine minutes and nineteen seconds for the closing title track. How can they sustain this level of sludgy hardcore and jazz over such an extended period? The answer lies in a welcome arrangement of violin and cellos in the introduction before the guitars, bass and drums come charging in like a fox in a chicken coop. Here, Bossen takes the aggression into a more intelligible post-metal direction with bone-headed chug riffs, but it’s not in Aagaard Jensen’s DNA to play like John Bonham when the spirit of Art Blakey lives inside him. It leaves this song unsettled and restless, but that’s the point. Oxx write music that festers in the grey areas of existence where the tension could make our daily lives a volatile experience if we were not so adept at masking it.
The illusion that you can make sense of it on repeat listens is what makes The Primordial Blues such a fascinating record. Of course, these are vain pretensions, but it’s a credit to the quality of the music that it produces this belief in you. Who’d have thought that something so complex could be so enjoyable?
Release Date: 18/08/2023
Record Label: Nefarious Industries
Standout tracks: The Coast, The Fishing Village, The Lake and Everything Around It
Suggested Further Listening: The Gorge – Mechanical Fiction (2023), Knekelput – Teloorgang (2022), Anachronism – Meanders (2023)