Jussi Lehtisalo of Finnish avant-noise/metal/psych shape-shifters Circle, Pharaoh Overlord, and a thousand other projects was working on "artsy-fartsy free-noise-rock improvisations" with drummer Jukka Kroger (FM2000) when they decided to take a few steps back, simplify, and plow through a set of straight-ahead punk. Around that time, in November 2009, Circle were playing shows with Isis as part of the L.A.-via-Boston post-metal band's final European tour; during this span of gigs Lehtisalo and Isis vocalist/guitarist Aaron Turner talked about starting a band. Samae Koskinen from one of Lehtisalo's projects Steel Mammoth joined the fold as bassist, and Split Cranium was born.
A side project of sorts that feels like a bit like a series of tribute bands in a blender, Split Cranium is the kind of bit of ridiculous fun that ends up working not in spite of itself, but because it was supposed to work that way to start with. With Isis veteran Aaron Turner drafted in to provide a slew of vocal roaring over Jussi Lehtisalo and company's none-more-metal riffing insanity and moodsetting, Split Cranium pretty well sets a tone from the start with "Little Brother," almost riffing along as a hoarser-voiced Motörhead with more of a guitar lead. And this is no bad thing, especially when the drums get even more frenetic at the end.
On the surface, Split Cranium is just one in a tired tradition of crust punk and grindcore bands—heavy hardcore punk with heavy metal riffs and guttural, thrashy vocals. Despite these subgenres’ worthwhile pioneers, they are rightly associated with sexually frustrated teenage boys in ill-fitting black t-shirts. On the surface, Split Cranium begs to be binned.
Split Cranium are an anomaly. Like hardcore during its formative years, their music is far more punk than the metal-inflected hardcore of the present, but the vocals are firmly rooted in the latter. Similarly surprising, and potentially divisive for fans of Isis, is the radical change in direction for Aaron Turner from the post-metal of his former band to the simple music contained on Split Cranium.