A description, a directive: upstate New Yorkers HUSH. stylize their name with a period, suggesting nothing so much as an ultimatum. Last featured on Invisible Oranges with a track off 2014’s Unexist, HUSH. return in June 2022 with their fourth recording. Self-released and supported by a cassette drop from Sludgelord Records, The Pornography of Ruin punctuates a decade of existence with punishing efficiency, exploring rough sonic and emotional terrain while mining fresh veins of dark gold. A pandemic baby, the new album offers band members and listeners a guidebook for the age. Doom’s highly topical concerns are honed into devastating points; a tendency toward death turns inward to questions of sacrifice and resurrection, while a preoccupation with decay generates patient, ominous, inevitable rhythms. This isn’t the possibility of impending doom, but the reality of the doom already miring us.

The band themselves eschew exacting genrefication, preferring to leave the sludge-versus-doom debate to listeners. Long years logged in indie scenes have produced a slow fusion of extreme influences and unabashed preferences. The result is a giant-size juggernaut that feels iconoclastic, expansive, and mature, a record made by musicians confident in their talents and tastes. The Pornography of Ruin is an exercise in experiential doom, rather than an adherence to sonic dogma. Its first single and accompanying video double down on the intense subjectivity naturally resulting from DIY sensibilities. From HOVVL, the Hudson studio built by longest-running member Jordan Cozza, to vocalist and lyricist Charles Cure’s album covers, HUSH. prize the specific over the universal. Even the band’s storied live show excludes the audience from witnessing HUSH. in the moment, while welcoming them to a larger, pointedly personal experience–a vulnerability perhaps most accessible through extreme live music.

Previous HUSH. ventures embraced skillful brutality. From out-of-print EP Untitled I through to its bright inverse Untitled II, the band rowed in time with the likes of Sumac and Corrupted; “ugly” appears in most rave reviews of the band’s catalog. But the post-metal gleam occasionally found on Unexist and Nihil Unbound flourishes throughout the new album. The Pornography of Ruin dynamites its existing landscape with quieter vocal segments, banshee shrillness, and generous expanses of sparse instrumentation, in which the absence of vocals is a feature rather than a bug. “ABOVE YOUR HEAD THEY CLOSE LIKE GIANT WINGS” and album closer “AT NIGHT WE DREAMED OF THOSE WE WERE STOLEN FROM” revel in heavy, delivering bleak comfort like a lead-lined blanket. Contrast with “...BY THIS YOU ARE TRULY KNOWN,” which metabolizes HUSH.’s external influences and internal truisms. A cinematic multi-parter, the song utilizes every trick in the book: drumbeat as threat, unexpected synth, layered vocals turned menacing lullaby, and a final, crushing denouement–12 minutes and change of what HUSH. is all about. The band wears its black heart on its sleeve. Through heavy music’s lens, any disease turns terminal and every passion becomes doom.

--Diana Hurlburt

The Pornography of Ruin drops digitally and on vinyl and cassette on June 24, 2022. Stream the second single, “ABOVE YOUR HEAD THEY CLOSE LIKE GIANT WINGS,” right here, and read further for a chat with Charles Cure and Jordan Cozza. This interview has been lightly edited for length.

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Charles Cure (who you'll hear more from below) has this to say about the track:

This is the first song we wrote for the record, back in 2016 after we had just finished recording our previous release Untitled II. This track is a behemoth that starts out with a lot of crushing heaviness and then dives deep into a well of hopelessness before finishing off with a massive end riff. It is probably the song on The Pornography of Ruin that hews closest to previous HUSH material. The title of the song is a part of a quote from the Vladimir Nabakov novel Pale Fire, and lyrically it addresses the mutable nature of the past and future and the individual as a prisoner trapped in the present as those two forces continually press in on them. It is about accepting the reality of impermanence and the malleability of consciousness and memory."

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The Pornography of Ruin marks HUSH’s third full-length release in ten years. It also announces a shift in album titling, a move away from the “u” convention central to previous releases–and overall aesthetic. What do the title and cover art speak to?

Charles Cure: This record’s release marks the longest gap we have ever had between records, with our last release coming in 2018. However, we actually began writing The Pornography of Ruin back in 2016, so it feels like even longer to us. During that time we probably wrote three different versions of these songs that we scrapped and reworked to get to this end product, and we went through long periods of dormancy while we had a few different lineup rotations. Even just that kind of writing process would have indicated a shift within us as a band that would have been a signal to leave behind some of our previous conventions. When the pandemic came, we had really just begun working the songs into the form they appear on the record and the unreality of that time became like an indelible mark on the music that set it aside as something totally separate from what we had done before.

The title and cover art are an externalization of the theme of the record itself, which is a meditation on self-destruction, loss of identity, and transformation. These songs explore the idea of being reduced to nothing and coalescing again as something new. They critique the illusion of control we maintain over the physical world as well as over one another. They contemplate departure into uncertainty and impermanence. Crucially, they attempt to understand why some individuals are intensely drawn toward places of violence, destruction, and desolation as a way to find peace or absolution.

The cover photograph of the record was taken by urban explorer Adrian Ledezma, and is an image of two open caskets on display in the showroom of an abandoned funeral home. When I first saw this image in a post he made I could not put it out of my mind for days, even though I was already partway into the design of the record with a different image. There is a feeling that seems to linger in the image for me–a sense that despite the disrepair and disarray of the room itself, someone has just been there and left a moment before and the idea of them remains there in some intangible way. It feels peaceful and macabre at the same time, and to me that seemed to reach directly to the heart of the feeling we were hoping to communicate with this group of songs.

The album’s June release date connects to another June date–the last time HUSH. played live, in June 2019. With shows planned for the summer, how do you envision these tracks translating to the live setting? Has HUSH.’s stage persona changed since the last outing?

CC: Everyone says that time isn’t real anymore, but knowing that our last live show was about three years ago feels truly strange to me anyway. We do have a short mid-Atlantic/northeast run planned with our friends in Cowardice in late June and are really looking forward to bringing some of these songs to life in a live setting. In addition to that, we also have only played three or four shows since the release of Untitled II in 2018, so we will be adding something from that record into the mix too. In terms of our overall vibe on stage, we have stripped ourselves down to a more barebones version of the band that is less of a maximalist exercise than it previously was. Instead of two drum kits and 14 amps on stage, people can expect a lean-and-mean approach that is just as loud and enveloping but more focused and physically ferocious. That does not mean that you won’t occasionally see us with a massive wall of amps behind us again in the future either.

How has the shape of doom grown or changed since HUSH. began? Where does the band fit into the current landscape?

Jordan Cozza: When HUSH. first began, I didn’t hear the term “doom” used often. When our demo was released, our music began being described as doom and sludge by listeners. I remember actually doing research to try to understand what that meant. 'Heavy', 'slow', and 'loud' were the terms used most frequently. It seemed fitting. In more recent years, doom is used very loosely to describe almost anything amp-related. Yes, some of us enjoy amps, and we use them to perform, but we also experiment with sounds that don’t come from amps. It makes me contemplate where we fit into the genre.

CC: Something that has always been a draw to the heavy music subculture is that it is constantly changing and expanding. It has always seemed that the genre is easily misunderstood by casual listeners or outsiders as essentially a binary choice between bands that sound like Black Sabbath and Sleep or bands that sound like mournful Congregation or Evoken, but it is not. In fact bands like Samothrace, Indian, Primitive Man, Yob, The Body, Thou, and others have really demonstrated that the genre tolerates experimentation well and can incorporate many disparate influences into extremely evocative and intense soundscapes.
As to where HUSH. fits into that scheme, I’m unsure. Your own band always sounds like something different to you because there’s a level of intimacy as a songwriter that makes it hard to ignore all the personal nuance it contains and just see it as an outsider would. HUSH. has always felt like an outlier in some ways because we draw in a lot of weird stuff to form the basis of our music, and much of it is not from the heavy music world. The majority of the musical touchstones for creating my part of this record have little musical connection with the doom genre in any sense, but we tried to apply those influences in a way that created and articulated an aesthetic of loss, sorrow, longing, desperation, and hopelessness, which is a main stylistic element of doom, so in that sense we identify ourselves with the genre.

Some band members are involved with other musical pursuits, from hardcore Crisis Actor to noiselord Scum Couch to throwback metallers The Final Sleep. What interplay did the members’ projects have with this album?

JC: I believe I’m the only member of the band who wasn’t involved in any other projects at the time of writing. That’s a large reason why this album has the dynamics it does. I had written a handful of songs that were somber and not heavy with the intention of using them for something else. HUSH. had a few songs written but they weren’t exciting to me after sitting on them for so long. I wanted to write these songs, but didn’t know if they were the right fit for this band. We figured out a way to make them work for us.

CC: I also sing in Crisis Actor, which is pretty much the polar opposite of HUSH. in the context of heavy music. It is very fast-paced and chaotic hardcore. I joined that band during a period when HUSH. was not very active, and I really tried to step out of the style of vocals I do in HUSH. In doing so, I wound up challenging myself to try a lot of things I probably never would have in HUSH., and I really expanded the range of textures I could use vocally. I believe it made my performance on The Pornography of Ruin a lot more competent and interesting.

Mark [O’Brien, drummer and multi-instrumentalist] does a project called Scum Couch, which has a unique noisy and gritty art rock vibe. He has been making videos for that project for a few years now, and his experience with fusing a musical narrative and visuals in Scum Couch definitely made it possible for HUSH. to make a video for ourselves for this record. Jeff [Andrews, guitarist] has also been in many other projects for a long time; there has not been a period during the entire tenure of HUSH. when he has been in our band alone. His band The Final Sleep just put out a great record a couple months ago and his other band Scavengers released a single last week. Jeff’s experience in so many heavy bands is definitely the element that adds the most full-on metal tinge to HUSH.’s music; he really understands how to bring that sound into our songs in a way that accents but does not overwhelm the other aspects of what we are doing.

The Pornography of Ruin features spare, borderline-spoken word vocals, partially departing from the brutal style typical to previous albums. What prompted the hybrid vocals for this album?

CC: When we had finally solidified a few of the songs from the record in their basic structure, I spent a lot of time listening to our demos before I did any writing at all, and the songs really seemed to need something more than just completely harsh vocals. There are several songs with passages that have an almost dreamlike feel to them in some ways, and I wanted to contribute something to those parts without making them abrasive. I hadn’t ever tried something like that in HUSH. previously, so it was awkward when I first started writing, but I think in the end those parts work in favor of making the album cohesive.

HUSH. albums, lyrically, are often “in conversation” with film and literature. What external influences sparked this album? What genres, acts, or records is this album sonically in conversation with?

CC: Each song on The Pornography of Ruin takes its title from a quotation, except for one. Much of the imagery in the lyrics has been shaped by visual art in some way. Without giving an exhaustive rundown of each track, most of them take inspiration from an amalgam of influences that seemed adjacent to one another at the time I wrote them. A great example of this is the opening track titled “I AM WITHOUT HEAVEN AND A LAW UNTO MYSELF.” This title is a rough translation of a statement made by Jiang Qing, a Chinese actress who later became the wife of Mao Zedong and Minister of Propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party shortly after the revolution. She made the statement as she was being dragged out of a courtroom during her own trial for being a member of the Gang of Four after Mao’s death.

The imagery in the lyrics for the song is heavily inspired by the visual context of Alex Garland’s film adaptation of the novel Annihilation. These two disparate elements seemed to come together at a center point to form a narrative: one of an individual’s struggle to defy the forces in the outside world that inexorably encroach on and attempt to alter them until they possess an acceptable identity or are erased entirely. The struggle to own oneself, to hold a self-concept that is in conflict with the expectations of the majority, and maintain and defend one’s existence as both valid and inherently valuable is a central human desire that was articulated for me by these two unrelated cultural inputs. Every song on the record was created in this way by linking external influences to a shared core concept, and then restating them through the lens of my own experience.

In terms of what the music is in conversation with as far as sound is concerned, I don’t know that we considered that as much. Because of the long writing period, the music changed a great deal over time, and some of the initial influences and adjacent works that were relevant to it subsided as it mutated into something completely different over the arc of its creation. In that way I think, sonically and musically, it is very much its own thing, which was also a conscious choice. Our friend and collaborator Ryan Slowey also was very aware of this during the process of engineering the record and he really did an exceptional job making it sound like itself and nothing else.

This album’s centerpiece, “...BY THIS YOU ARE TRULY KNOWN,” clocks in at over twelve minutes long. How do you sustain and develop such a behemoth?

JC: This is one of those songs that we had written a while back, but mostly just as a loud, heavy jam. I think we liked some of the parts, but didn’t feel like it had enough depth. The long, middle section was a bass line I had been sitting on for a while. I really liked it and wanted to use it for something. Once we started experimenting more with clean sounds, it just felt right to use it in this song.

CC: I also recall this song starting as simply a straightforwardly heavy piece that felt unfinished in some way. Around the time it came together, Jordan had been writing a lot of quiet, elongated melodic parts that we had initially had trouble working into songs. This track was the first I recall coming together in a way that made all of us want to continue experimenting with a much more pronounced loud/soft dynamic for this record. As we added to it, the length did not seem problematic because of the nature of the song’s structure. The long and extremely quiet middle section of it seems almost like a song within a song to me, and I really enjoy it.

The question asked of all bands currently operating: how has the pandemic affected HUSH.?

JC: It provided a bleak backdrop for this album.

CC: Agreed. It was a pervasive element of angst and dread that peaked during the period of our greatest activity in terms of completing the writing process for the record. Because of that, it is present in the music in the way it is present in essentially all art and culture now. Nothing on The Pornography of Ruin specifically references the pandemic and its effects, but it lurks everywhere in the background. Outside of the writing process, the pandemic forced us to slow the process of completing the record and during that time we did rework some parts of it that I think made it a more fully realized effort.

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The Pornography of Ruin releases June 24th independently, with a cassette release by Sludgelord Records. Pre-order the album here.

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