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The Body is Still Fighting

I Have Fought Against It, But I Can't Any Longer official cover

Last year, The Body was supporting lush post-metallers Alcest with opener Creepers, a psychedelic offshoot of Deafheaven. It was an odd bill made even more peculiar because of the mindset of the The Body at the time. Fleshed out as a trio and completely without analog instruments, they were locked behind synths and effects boards, abusing them to create harsh electronic waves of destruction while Chip King affected his unparalleled vocal style that sounds like an enraged locust swarm engulfed in flames. They didn’t just seem to dare Alcest fans to figure it out; longtime supporters of the Portland-based project were also agape at the display.

That’s kind of their thing: challenging listeners for their own enjoyment. At first, it was King’s vocals and some of the most maladjusted doom since Eyehategod crawled out of the swamp. Then, it was an endless stream of collaborations and a seeming war between guitars and drums with electronics — a war which has definitely tipped in favor of machines in recent years with I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, released last Friday. Repetitive electronica jungle beats are looped and sampled; guitars are only occasionally heard amidst the cacophony and they, too, are likely sampled.

The album title came from Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter, a cynical symmetry for a band with album titles such as You, Whom I Have Always Hated, No One Deserves Happiness, and One Day You Will Ache Like I Ache in its wake. Yet in many ways, it’s far more optimistic sounding. This is likely the result of several co-conspirators who at times take over the record, stamping it as much of a collaboration as the band’s forays with Thou, Full of Hell, and Krieg, if not in name.

Chrissy Wolpert (Assembly of Light Choir) has nearly been a third member of The Body for some time now, though they also employ Ben Eberle (Sandworm) and guest performances by Michael Berdan (Uniform) and Kristin Hayter (Lingua Ignota). Hayter’s a downtuned Diamanda Galas on “Nothing Stirs,” turning the minimalist pop into a Goth-opera tragedy; she, Berdan, and King trade off screams as “Sickly Heart of Sand” builds into a melancholic crescendo like an argument heard muffled through cheap tenement walls that could climax in violence — you just hope it doesn’t.

Although the band themselves have posited that this is The Body’s pop music period, and some have seemingly bought into it, admitting you listen to Beyoncé doesn’t make you a pop artist any more than watching a movie makes you a cinematographer. Fortunately, that bit will likely fade away; I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer is far too abrasive and antagonistic to really own the label “pop.” Much of the disc seems a modern interpretation of Whitehouse, the 1980s power electronics pioneers, though without the shock value. Their overt profanity and fascistic allusions were just a precursor to what we now call the news. Modern living is shocking enough these days.

It’s understandable that some, especially those who knew The Body as an experimental sludge group, could feel alienation, bewilderment, or even hostility at the new direction. In retrospect, their restless nature was apparent even when they were less idiosyncratic; maybe it always had to end up this way, with Lee Buford programming drums rather than playing them, with female singers supplanting King as the dominant voice. It’s been an evolution as slow as sludge metal itself but In almost every way it seems like the culmination of what The Body has been working toward — progressive rock.

Progressive rock has stereotypically been about chops, but The Body make it about imagination, fusing it with punk rock’s rebellion against any prevailing wisdom. “Blessed Alone,” with lilting synth-strings, operatic vocals, and a bludgeoning undercurrent is progressive rock. The eight-minute closer “Ten Times A Day, Every Day, A Stranger,” most of it darkly-intoned self-pitying spoken word from Czech author Bohumil Hrabal about how he’s “reached the peak of emptiness,” is morose and thought-provoking, but also progressive rock (see the poem tacked onto the end of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” a song I bet The Body could cover the hell out of if they were so inclined).

I understand how some – maybe most – cannot comprehend progressive rock without a degree of difficulty. Musicianship needn’t be limited to fretted eighth notes and arpeggios or even a reliance on basic music theory. Jeff Rosenstock is an indie rocker who is channeling punk and prog and if punk taught us anything it’s that rules are made to be broken so why can’t The Body reinvent progressive rock as done by noisy neanderthals?

Some might say calling it prog is a stretch, but if those same people embraced the “pop” label, it’s best to ignore them altogether.

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