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There was an era when calling Mamaleek black metal and leaving it at that would have been enough. Still, this band has always been on the weird end, folding plenty of avant-rock into their work, but even so-called standard black metal has always been weirder than people typically say. Their latest release Come and See, though, is easily their least black metal album to date, driving instead toward experimental post-punk, screamo, and avant-rock textures more so than ever before, and to great effect.

Come and See is themed around the childhood experience of the two primary songwriters growing up in public housing, focusing especially on the notorious Cabrini-Green complex in Chicago. This was the site, famously, that the film adaptation of Candyman was set, with its director adapting the childhood traumatics of gay white British author Clive Barker's abuses within private schools to something that felt more pathologically American. With Come and See developed around the same housing project, it says enough about the deep trauma that surrounds both it and the other works of art based on the complex -- the deep poverty, gang violence, and substance abuse that ravages low-income communities, especially communities of color, speaks to a quietly but proudly oppressive and violent American history.

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This context helps explain the choice of timbres on Come and See, focusing more on a lightly distorted jangle more akin to noise rock (or the more violent ends of emo) rather than black metal as we used to know Mamaleek. Their sound on this album is one we tend to closely associate with urban trauma, echoing to many like a sonic representation of broken homes and catcalling and long shadows that promise cryptic violence.

This type of space has been explored before in avant-black metal circles. Bosse-de-Nage are perhaps the most notable example, building a sound that replaced the hardcore influence of second-wave with more abstract but hardcore-related sonic touchpoints like Slint, Television, or the more experimental moments of Black Flag. Mamaleek have played in these fields before, especially on the most recent set of releases the band has put out on The Flenser, of which Come and See is the third. They had always played with these kinds of jazzy textures, from certain chord voicings to the use of swing rhythm and the general abstract structural elements of their compositions, but it was only since the last three albums that they so deeply seemed to disavow standard approaches to heaviness.

Where previously you might have found a low-register riff, something evocative of doom metal with even a blast beat or two, Come and See chooses instead to situate itself more cerebrally, forcing the playing to be more inventive than just endless sheets of sound. The result is a record that is deeply dynamic; each of its six songs carry a sine-wave arc of peaking intensities and disgusted, frustrated, disquieted lows. Mamaleek avoids the cheap compositional trick of building tracks into a slow continuous crescendo, largely escaping the quiet-loud-quiet dynamics that make post-rock indebted work sometimes so tedious.

A fair comparison for Come and See might be the indie rock dynamic of Virus (a band which enjoys numerous dynamics). Virus, like Mamaleek, were once a black metal band, albeit it still a rather avant-garde one, in their incarnation as Ved Buens Ende. They evolved, however, into a group that was substantially more interested in more harmonically complex chords and progressions, burying a jazzy richness to their broad voicings that often made their music sound more like a parallel evil-dimension version of Yes than the avant-black metal of their earlier incarnation. Come and See cuts a similar shape, feeling like it extracts the spiritual essence of black metal, that profound sense of loss and misanthropy and venom and primal hurting, and extrapolates from it something more urban and wiry and wounded. White Ward's recent record Love Exchange Failure might be a good reference point here, although that record skews far more toward traditional black metal shapes than Come and See.

I feel confident asserting that, had Mamaleek not had their earlier career and the records contained there, it would be improper to review this record here. But, like Ulver and Ihsahn before them, it is the fact that they arrived here by slow, continuous extrapolation on the ideas in black metal, following the thread deeper down a very strange hole, that it feels intensely connected with the legacy of the genre. Such a path just so happens to produce profound and riveting records, and Come and See is especially steeped in American trauma, the quiet and more pervasive kind that gets lost under the totalizing glare of tragedies more recently past.

Come and See, then, is not "weird progressive black metal"; it is instead what happens when you follow black metal as far as it will go, and then out the other side.

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Come and See released last Friday via The Flenser.

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