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Whitehouse, "Asceticists 2006"

By now, pretty much everyone knows what to expect from a Whitehouse album, and Whitehouse seem satisfied to fully play into these expectations.  Restraint and subtlety have never played a part in the project, and the Whitehouse discography seems to chart very little in the way of musical evolution in the more than two decades the group has been operating. 

Susan Lawly

 

Whitehouse - Asceticists 2006

Despite all this, noise fans who have bothered to look beyond the old familiar accusatory barking and blistering squalls of aggravating noise may have noticed a certain level of maturity creeping into their work, along with a newfound willingness to travel outside the time-tested Whitehouse formula.

The new album Asceticists 2006 features a now streamlined line-up that no longer includes author Peter Sotos, whose contribution to 2003's Bird Seed—a cut-up assemblage of television and documentary soundbites about sex crimes and child abuse—was one of the most harrowing and brutal tracks on an already brutal album.  Due to creative differences with the band (partially documented in the new Sotos  collection Waitress), Sotos either quit or was fired, depending on who you believe.  Pared back to the familiar duo of William Bennett and Philip Best, Whitehouse here concentrate on perfecting their formula, travelling further into the same dark, confrontational and transgressive territory they have been inhabiting for years, finding newer and ever more devastating ways to embody aggression, terror and discord.  This perfection involves the introduction of a few new techniques that seem to be outside the usual bag of minimalist noise tricks, make the album's title seem disingenuous.

By calling themselves Asceticists, Bennett and Best suggest an aggressively minimalist stance, stripping back everything to its absolute essence, a strict reductionism that essentializes their aesthetic to its most potent state, willingly forgoing pleasure and creative indulgence in pursuit of something pure, or even sacred.  Perhaps this is true of their ideology, or of their continued pursuit of sonic realms that alienate all but the most masochistic listeners, but it is certainly not true of their sound palette, which has actually expanded considerably in recent years.  Early Whitehouse is pure sadism—plain, simple and unapologetically ugly.  It would be inaccurate to suggest that Asceticists is anything other than a noise album, but the newer explorations of rhythm, stereo effects, subtle tonal shifts and atmospheric textures seems to indicate that maturity is almost subliminally creeping into the mix, problematizing the kind of blind provocation, nihilism and punk infantilism that Whitehouse is known for.

Though they introduced the first hints of rhythm some time ago—all obtuse, upended aggro-industrial splatter—the role of the "beat" seems to play an increasingly large role in Whitehouse's output, figuring in four of the seven tracks here.  Taking their cue, perhaps, from the fractured, sadistic beat constructions of the Digital Hardcore acts or newer artists such as Autechre and Venetian Snares, artists who in many ways have redefined an industrial noise aesthetic that no longer has to be rooted in the squall and feedback, and can create the same confrontational ruptures using the "beat" as a weapon.  Though this may have seemed at first like a concession, it's now impossible to imagine Whitehouse without this dimension, as it gives their noise an urgency and propulsion that keeps it from turning into the sort of passive, undifferentiated meditational noise offered by many artists.  Merzbow has used rhythms to similar effect, although his ridiculous serialism and prolificacy makes most of his work seem curiously devoid of value and superfluous.

The same could not be said of Whitehouse, who with Asceticists 2006, seem once again to be the most vital and relevant group of their kind currently recording and performing.  The lyrics on the album are familiar territory: angry vituperations delivered into a megaphone with a caustic, accusatory tone.  However, it seems that with each successive album, Bennett and Best hone in with greater linguistic specificity on the object of their hatred and violent dissent.  At times, these lyrics function as a kind of devastating polemic, at other times like brutal poetry.  The themes of hypocrisy, moral degradation and personal destruction are given precise articulation with images of child abuse, underground sex trade, violent breaks with political currency.  The track "Dans" uses the loose metaphor of dance to map out views on the performative nature of human behavior: "So okay pick a child, any child...Skinny boy arms form the cross/Heavy hand pulls down hard on unformed mini-muscle/What fucking choreography."  All this amid a maelstrom of twisted metallic distortion and the digital undermining of audio cohesion.

"Language Recovery" seems to take dead aim at ex-friends, critics and enemies of the band, successively revealing layers of hypocrisy and bitter betrayals: "What kind of wronged animal are you?/Remote viewing, crystal worship/Water divising, and other esoterica...Now everything's up for sale/And it's just about marketing now, right?"  "Guru" is the first indication of Whitehouse's stylistic evolution, as the track is quite dynamic, using subtle stereo effects and tonal shifts to map out a specific topography that doesn't just sound like one solid noise attack, but achieves several moment of an almost psychedelic manipulation.

Perhaps "Nzambi La Lufua" (a title which reminds me of the Susan Lawly compilation Extreme Music From Africa) is the most unexpected track on the album, a two-and-a-half minute instrumental formed of scraping harmonic textures that create a melodic progression, unheard of for Whitehouse.  This clears the palette for the dark and Dionysiac "Killing Hurts Give You the Secret," another track that figures a thrilling evolution, from subterranean paranoia to triumphant nihilist revelation.  "Ruthless Babysitting" seems like the sequel to Bird Seed's "Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel," a cruel and devastating primal punk scream that would be the radio single, if anyone played Whitehouse on the radio.  Best screams a misogynistic rant over a machine-gun spray of head-battering rhythms that explode over a digital blur of thought-canceling audio cruelty.

Bennett and Best would probably be loathe to admit it, but Asceticists 2006, despite its misleading name, shows that their music is clearly evolving and maturing, and is both more complex and more approachable now than it has ever been.  The album's slim running time and confrontational dynamism guarantees that boredom and passivity cannot persist while listening to the album.  For all of the musical masochists in our midst, this album should do the trick quite nicely.

samples:

 

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