Phyllomedusa - Desiccation in Progress (Version II) (2011)
Frogs Use Electrical Tuning To Discriminate Sounds.
There comes a time when musical explorations lead you into swamps and mires that you're just not ready for. People I've talked to in the past point to artists like Merzbow (a Japanese Noise artist) when it comes to pushing the boundaries as to what can or should be considered music or musical in nature. Having not listened to Merzbow yet, I feel like Phyllomedusa has been my initiation into a world filled with experimentation and extremely, incredibly loud noises. I want to say that I respect the artistic vision that "Big Frog" has, given his captivation with slimy amphibians, but I'm not sure that even disrupts the surface of the pond that is Phyllomedusa. As of writing this review he has released 249 albums, but his production has slowed significantly in 2020 with only three albums being released this year. Perhaps an uptick in the heron or stork population has caused increased predation for our slippery friends. Maybe climate change has finally caused drastic pond ecosystem shifts that are leaving our neighborhood amphibians homeless. Maybe he's just out of ideas after two hundred and fifty albums plus another forty EP's. The world may never know.
On the surface, this 10 minute wall of noise is murkier than the bottom of the Everglades. In each of the 30 to 10 second tracks instruments are being played, noise is being created, but I can't for the life of me distinguish between anything other than the percussion and, well, everything else. Everything just blends together into a singular mass of noise, similar to how the harlequin tree frog camouflages itself against the backdrop of dead leaves. Apart from the occasional ping of the snare and the general erratic rumbling there's no sense of tempo, melody, or very much of anything. The vocals are hilariously frog-like, with Big Frog making me realize how close growling can come to the croaking songs of our frog brethren as they communicate across darkened lakes and streams. Given song titles like "Prolapsed Agalychnis Bowl Repair" and "Fragrant Flectonotus Purulence" I doubt I want to know what our amphibious overlord is attempting to croak out during any of these songs, but I'm sure the true frog fanatics out there will be able to dissect some juicy factoids. At the very least, I think I added at least 20 words to my vocabulary by just staring at the track titles as they flew past, so who knew that the murky clutches of frog Gorenoise could be so educational.
For as indecipherable as Desiccation in Progress (Version II) is, it definitely gets its theme across in hilariously obvious ways. Whether it's the ribbit samples, the small frog related monologue, or just the frog-like vocals in general, Big Frog undoubtedly gets his point across even if this is your first frog rodeo. The sound effects and samples have a disgusting and slimy quality to them as the listener digs through the muck of the drums and other noise, adding some much needed clarity to this strangely captivating amphibious experience. The only track extending past 1 minute is the closer, which seems to somehow take all of the short tracks and combine them with actual transitions, which is something I wasn't expecting. The more I listened to what I can only describe as the roar of one million bullfrogs assaulting my ears constantly for ten minutes, I only had more and more questions. Which, in hindsight, is probably the point.
Even though us humans argue about what constitutes as music or not, Big Frog decided to take his caecilian ideals to the extreme and release a massive string of albums that don't care about your labels or analysis. And I think that's where I consider Gorenoise to fall within the realm of music, something that can be understood, but is it really meant to? There's no melody, no balance, no structure, nothing that I look for when I listen to music, but that's kind of the point, isn't it? The common tree frog doesn't care about time signatures or instrumentation, so what right do we bipedal humans have to expect more out of the likes of Big Frog? Through this album I've witnessed the metamorphosis of my small tadpole mind from believing that I didn't to listen to ten minutes of blaring, amphibious noise to knowing that I never want to listen to ten more minutes of blaring, amphibious noise ever again. In all seriousness, this album was incredibly painful to listen to even though it has its moments of hilarity. There's almost no point to it, but at the same time there is a point to be made about it, which feels like the basis of all experimental noise music. In any case, with his output slowing down, maybe it's time for Big Frog to enter his much deserved torpor state after assaulting the world with hours of frog based etymology and taxonomy. I'm not sure how Gorenoise became the medium of choice for these admittedly cute, big eyed pond dwellers, but now I'll be woefully reminded of the onslaught on my eardrums if I ever see another frog gracefully break the shimmering surface of the water as it leaps in.
Some of you may be aware that I’ve recently been taking it upon myself to investigate some of the rarer & more niche subgenres of metal so as to both expand my metal knowledge & to help make Metal Academy the most helpful & all-encompassing metal-related website on the internet. Well, if you could look inside my mind when I read about the niche subgenre of metal known as “gorenoise” recently you would likely have seen me uttering something similar to “Gorenoise?? What the fuck is that?”. And I’d have had every right to in all honesty. The gorenoise subgenre is more of a sub-subgenre with only a handful of bands of any note moving around in this space with any regularity. For the sake of this review though, I’ve chosen one of the more highly regarded releases in gorenoise circles & it comes from an artist that has released literally hundreds of albums over the space of the last decade or so.
So, what is gorenoise exactly? Well it’s essentially a combination of two widely varying subgenres of music that are both fairly niche in their respective fields it has to be said. Most extreme metal fans worth their salt would at least have some sort of knowledge of the existence of the goregrind subgenre which was first created by Carcass back in the late 1980’s. But many probably aren’t terribly familiar with the “harsh noise” movement that sprouted out of the Japanese experimental music scene a couple of years earlier. Harsh noise (as its name suggests) is all about the creation of huge walls of abrasive noise & it’s really got very little to do with metal but it does share a common element with goregrind in that they may just be the least accessible styles of “music” on the planet (& I use the term music fairly loosely when it comes to harsh noise). So one of my missions when I decided to undertake a review of a well respected gorenoise release was to determine whether it actually had any right to being associated with metal music at all &, as you’ll soon find out, the answer was not as straight forward as I’d hoped.
Phyllomedusa is essentially the work of one man in Maryland producer Matt Mansfield who has released a huge body of work under a whole slew of different monikers over more than a decade now. He’s been releasing music under this particular guise on his own Hypyractyv Larynx Frogquencies label almost every other week since 2007 & has also been involved with a number of collaborations over that time with his sound being cross-pollinated with several different subgenres of metal on the various releases. Interestingly, Matt seems to have an unusual fascination with frogs & the word “Phyllomedusa” is actually the name given to a family of tree frogs. So, given that knowledge, you probably won’t be too surprised when I tell you that the Phyllomedusa project is entirely based around amphibian themes. In fact, in his every day life Matt is actually a frog photographer & herpetologist for National Geographic & usually goes by the name ”Big Frog” when conducting his various “musical” endeavours. Ooooookkkkaaaayyyyyy….. so we’re definitely dealing with a unique individual here & one that certainly doesn’t take himself all that seriously which I would imagine is probably a prerequisite for all fans of gorenoise to tell you the truth.
Naturally, the cover artwork for 2011’s “Desiccation in Progress (Version II)” features an image of one of our amphibian friends along with a completely illegible & fairly cheap looking logo made up of what looks like various frog-related bits & pieces so there’s been no attempt to hide the fact that Big Frog has his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek. Further reinforcement can be found by taking one look at the tracklisting which is both biologically & comically flavoured i.e. two characteristics that are very much in line with your typical goregrind model. Nineteen tracks initially seemed like a particularly arduous task to sit through however my fears were quickly alleviated when I noticed that the total duration of the “album” was a meer ten & a half minutes! Yes, you read that correctly ladies & gentlemen. This may just be the shortest album I’ve ever come across. I mean most singles & EPs are longer than that these days. But I think there’s a good reason for that so bare with me.
Upon first listen I was immediately pushed onto the back foot in no uncertain terms. I had recently been listening to a release that must have had a fairly low volume level because no sooner had I pressed play than I received an involuntary physical direction to throw my headphones off in self-defence. I actually can’t describe just how loud the wall of noise that came bursting out of those speakers was however let’s just say that I’ll be lucky if I don’t experience any long-term effects. After drastically reducing the volume I was ready to give it another shot though & on my second attempt I was presented with a slightly less voluminous but only marginally less confronting audio assault. My first impression was that the production job is actually very bright & electronic sounding which is not something I would usually relate to metal music. It’s much closer to something you’d hear in electronica. Particularly on the more industrial end of the spectrum. The high end electronic noises have an ear-catching vibrancy about them however you won’t get much time to take them in as everything flies past in a matter of seconds before moving onto something entirely similar. The artificially produced snare sounds aren’t to my taste much which is a real concern given that there’s about twenty zillion of them in the ten minutes. They just sound really cheap. Kinda like one of those wind-up monkeys banging away on their little drum. They’re very much in the style of your entry level midi-keyboard sound but in all honesty, most of the nuances are completely irrelevant because everything is dwarfed by the huge, bulbous, throbbing mass of noise that engulfs everything throughout pretty much the entire ten minutes. The levels have very clearly been thrust up to eleven to make sure that there is as much distortion as possible & that everything is as loud as humanly imaginable. I’d imagine that the wave file for each track would simply be a solid bar from top to bottom.
It’s actually really hard to look at “Desiccation in Progress (Version II)” from a musical point of view because I’m not sure it actually qualifies under that term. I can see where the grindcore association is loosely drawn from in the continual use of hyper-speed blast-beats, sudden & seriously brutal changes & ultra-deep death metal vocals however this release is much further over towards the harsh noise side of the equation than the metal one. Perhaps in a similar way to some of Darkspace’s later material being more ambient than black metal. I mean you can’t hear anything like a riff here. Is there any guitar at play here? I dunno. It’s simply not possible to identify anything from the wall of noise with even the continuous snare hits being hard to pick up on occasion. The very idea of melodic composition seems almost irrelevant with gorenoise & for that reason it’s very hard for any of these tracks to identify themselves from one another. In fact, ten minutes almost seems too long for the minimal quantity of ideas going on here. I find myself losing interest fairly quickly after the initial novelty wears off so I can’t see myself giving one of these releases multiple listens without a considerable break in between & perhaps it wouldn’t be advisable for your health anyway all things considered.
The vocals are an interesting topic because it sounds like Big Frog has gone to great effort to actually SOUND like a frog & the amphibian-related effects that are included on many of the tracks would support that theory. I have no idea as to whether there are actual lyrics for these tracks but it’s highly doubtful because it would have taken much longer to write them than to compose & record the entire album. I can’t see anyone sparing the time to read them anyway as these tracks fly past in a heartbeat. I’m not too sure if the vocal delivery employs the use of pitch-shifting technology or not because it’s fucking deep but I find it much more easily palatable than some of your more obviously artificial goregrind exponents & I actually think it’s done pretty effectively.
At the end of the day, “Desiccation in Progress (Version II)” is a novelty release. Nothing more, nothing less. So if you’re looking for substance here you’ll be seriously disappointed. The sheer abrasiveness of the wall of sound is all that matters & I’d be surprised if most fans of the gorenoise subgenre aren’t really more obsessed with shocking their friends & family than becoming emotionally engaged with the music. But in saying that, I do enjoy the sheer brutality of it all in some way. I can’t say that I’ve ever come across a more brutal style of music & that appeals to me from a purely conceptual point of view. It’s therefore possible that I’ll never be as harsh as I probably should be on an album like this & my score is based on the fact that, even though it may not be my cup of tea, I’d still much rather listen to this than Heavy Load, Helloween or Warlord.
For fans of: Vomitoma, Anal Birth, Menometrorrhagia